Follow up: The First Step To Football Returning This Fall
On Wednesday, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf released a preliminary guidance structure for the return of high school sports in the state in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
It seems like it’s very strong sign that the state will allow high school football to take place this coming fall—but it will have to adhere to a protocol spelled out.
“This is a great sign, it’s a great sign for all schools to come up with individual plans and for schools to get students on their campuses to work out,” said PIAA Executive Director, Dr. Robert A. Lombardi. “This could lay a good foundation for fall athletics.
“I’m cautiously optimistic (there will be fall sports) this year. This is a good first step. This guidance is for the summer. This is for optional, voluntary workouts on school campuses. This is not for practice. Practice begins August 17. We didn’t get to that stage yet. If our schools will do a good job here, this will be the evolution to other things.”
Governor Wolf stated:
“Pre-K to 12 (PK-12) school sports under the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PISAA) are permitted to resume in counties designated in the yellow and green phases, in alignment with the PDE preliminary guidance for phased reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools and the CDC considerations for youth sports.”
As of June 5, these 33 counties are in the yellow phase: Adams, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Franklin, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Union, Wayne, Wyoming and York.
As of June 5, these 34 counties are in the green phase: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Bradford, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Fayette, Forest, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Somerset, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Washington and Westmoreland.
Wolf also emphasized that the decision to resume sports will be at the discretion of each respective school district.
“Each school entity must develop and adopt an Athletics Health and Safety Plan aligning to the PDE Preliminary Guidance for Phased Reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools prior to conducting sports-related activities with students,” Wolf said. “The plan must include the provisions of this guidance, be approved by the local governing body of the school entity, and be posted on the school entity’s publicly available website. The plan does not need to be submitted to DOH or PDE for approval.
“During the yellow and green phases of reopening, sports-related activities at the PK-12 level are limited to student athletes, coaches, officials, and staff only. The addition of visitors and spectators will be contingent upon future health conditions within the state and local communities.”
Guidance Applicable to All Sporting Events
Local political units and school districts may impose more stringent requirements than those contained in this guidance. In such instances, businesses must adhere to this guidance as well as any other requirements imposed by the local political units. Teams and organizations should contact their local political subdivision to discuss their plan to resume play and to notify them of their intention to resume play.
To conduct games and practices, organizations and teams authorized to conduct in-person activities pursuant to this guidance must adhere to the following:
- Coaches and league officials must review and consider the CDC guidance on consideration for youth sports to modify practices and games to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus. This includes focusing on individual skill building versus competition and limiting contact in close contact sports.
- The community, league, or team must designate a primary point of contact for all questions related to COVID-19, and all parents, athletes, officials, and coaches must be provided the person’s contact information.
- The community, league, or team must develop a plan of action in the event an athlete, coach, or official falls ill, make the plan publicly available, and explain it to the entire sport community.
- The community, league, or team must educate all athletes, staff and families about the symptoms of COVID-19 and when to stay home. Athletes also should be educated on proper hand washing and sanitizing.
- Coaching staff and other adult personnel should wear face coverings (masks or face shields) at all times, unless doing so jeopardizes their health.
- Coaches and athletes must maintain appropriate social distancing at all times possible, including in the field of play, locker rooms, sidelines, dugouts, benches, and workout areas. During down time, athletes and coaches should not congregate.
- Coaches and athletic staff must screen and monitor athletes for symptoms prior to and during games and practices. If individuals participating in sporting activities show symptoms, have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, or are sick, they must be sent home.
- All athletes, coaches, and officials must bring their own water and drinks to team activities. Team water coolers for sharing through disposable cups are not allowed. Fixed water fountains should not be used.
- Activities that increase the risk of exposure to saliva must not be allowed including chewing gum, spitting, licking fingers, and eating sunflower seeds.
- Avoid shaking hands, fist bumps, or high fives before, during or after games and practices. Limit unnecessary physical contact with teammates, other athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators.
- Whenever possible, equipment and other personal items should be separated and not shared. If equipment must be shared, all equipment should be properly disinfected between users.
- If multiple games are to be held at the same facility, adequate time shall be scheduled between contests to allow for facilities to be cleaned and disinfected, and to minimize interaction between athletes. Sports complexes with multiple fields may operate simultaneous games or practices on fields within a complex only if social distancing can be maintained. Each individual game or practice at a complex must adhere to the gathering occupancy limits (25 in yellow, 250 in green), and the facility as a whole may not exceed 50% of total occupancy otherwise permitted by law.
- Concession stands or other food must adhere to the Guidance for Businesses in the Restaurant Industry.
To operate games or practice, organizations and teams that are otherwise permitted to conduct in-person activities pursuant to this guidance are encouraged to do the following:
- In counties in the Yellow Phase of Reopening, indoor training or sports may only be conducted by organizations subject to supervision or regulation of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association or National Collegiate Athletic Associations, and only in accordance with guidance provided by those governing bodies. Start by limiting games, scrimmages, and matches to teams in your region first. Expand beyond regional play if cases continue to stay low.
- Adult athletes are encouraged to wear face coverings when they are not engaged in a sporting activity, unless doing so jeopardizes their health.
- Coaches should create a back-up staffing plan which should include cross-training staff and coaches and training all coaches and officials on safety protocols.
- Limit cash transactions to the extent possible; find alternative ways to charge admission and pay for concessions.
- Create protocols to limit entrance and exit traffic, designating specific entry to and exits from facilities. Establish protocols to ensure staggered pick up and drop off for practice and events and ensure that athletes are not congregating while awaiting pick up and to ensure congregation or crowding does not occur on drop off. Pickups and drop offs should remain outside. Parents should not enter the facility.
Guidance for Caregivers and Spectators
- Seating areas, including bleachers, must adhere to social distancing requirements of at least 6 feet of spacing for anyone not in the same household. To assist with proper social distancing, areas should be clearly marked. Adults should wear face coverings (masks or face shields) at all times.
- Caregivers or spectators should not enter the field of play or bench areas.
- Nonessential visitors, spectators, and volunteers should be limited when possible, including activities with external groups or organizations. Parents should refrain from attending practices, or volunteering to assist with coaching.
- Caregivers and coaches should assess levels of risk based on individual athletes on the team who may be at a higher risk for severe illness.
- Caregivers should monitor their children for symptoms prior to any sporting event. Children and athletes who are sick or showing symptoms must stay home.
Today, the Governor’s Office and PA Department of Education (PDE) issued Preliminary School Sports’ Guidance for schools. This information will allow each school to resume voluntary sports’ related activities and to develop their own Athletics, Health and Safety Plan. This plan is to be approved by the school’s governing board and posted upon the school’s website.
“Allowing voluntary activities to commence at PIAA member schools as early as the approval by the local board is a significant move to allow students to be students,” said PIAA Executive Director, Dr. Robert A. Lombardi. “We are very appreciative and supportive of the Governor’s staff and PDE for allowing our input and having discussion of opening schools for voluntary workouts and activities.”
The guidance stipulates each school in Yellow and Green phase counties is to have a RTP plan in place to ensure that all sport teams and organizations conduct their operations in the manner best designed to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of the athletes and the communities they serve. Any sporting activities in Yellow or Green phased counties must adhere to the gathering limitations set forth by the Governor’s Plan for Phased Reopening (maximum of 25 people in the Yellow phase; no more than 250 people or 50 percent of the facility’s total occupancy, whichever is less, in the Green Phase.)
As has been recommended by the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), schools should tailor re-start guidelines to fit a school’s local needs, as opposed to a reliance on a “one-size fits all” approach. If you’d like to review detailed guidelines on developing policies in these areas, please refer to the links below. All activities must still be in accordance with PIAA out-of-season rules and regulations. PIAA is urging everyone to “play by the rules” to keep students eligible, to promote optimal health conditions and to prevent any setbacks that may jeopardize the starting of fall sports.
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