Top elected officials in the Hudson Valley convened and gave the green light for student-athletes to return to the field to begin playing “high risk” winter high school sports under strict guidance provided by the state.
“High-risk” spots include football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby, basketball, lacrosse, volleyball, martial arts, and competitive cheer or dance.
Their fate had been in the hands of the state until New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned it over to local governments and health officials last week.
Practices are set to begin next week on Monday, Feb. 1 with strict COVID-19 protocols in place.
“Our region agrees that sports provide many positive impacts for a student’s social, physical, and emotional wellbeing and should be authorized whenever possible,” County Executives in the Hudson Valley said in a joint statement.
“However, COVID-19 transmission rates around the state and throughout the Hudson Valley region demonstrate the critical nature of proper safety precautions to limit the continued spread of the virus in our communities.”
The officials made note that districts and organizations putting together any sporting activities are responsible for oversight and must be in compliance with the state’s mandates.
“Following an extensive review of New York State’s guidelines and our local COVID-19 data, Dutchess County’s Department of Behavioral Health and I support the resumption of ‘higher-risk’ youth sports – both school-sanctioned and non-scholastic – provided all involved take the necessary precautions,” Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said.
“This decision was not reached lightly and came about only after proper deliberation,” he added. "But we as a county – and as a region – want our children to have the opportunity to play, and we will continue to be vigilant for the sake of all involved.”
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus added: “Many people have contacted my office in support of playing sports.
“It is important that this be approached as a region, but that families make their own educated decisions based on their student-athlete and other household members.”
Student-athletes have been advised to continually monitor their health to determine if they develop even mild COVID-19 symptoms, and they’ve been advised to be cautious to maintain vigilance off the field to avoid spreading or contracting the virus.
New York State has agreed to provide COVID-19 tests to districts who wish to put in a surveillance testing program, though it is not a requirement to resume sports.
Other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include possible temperature checks, attendance logs for practices and games, mandated facial coverings, social distancing will be enforced, and there may be a cap on audiences.
It is now up to individual school districts to determine whether they want to opt-in or out of the upcoming season.
In a statement, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell said that “it is up to each school district to decide whether to allow their students to participate in high-risk sports.
“The health and safety of students, staff, and the local community during this pandemic must be each district’s first priority. What works in one district does not necessarily work in another.”
Sullivan County Manager Joshua Potosek said that he was looking forward to getting the student-athletes back on the field, “having benefitted from athletics programs both as a student and as an adult.”
“However, we remain in the midst of a serious global pandemic, and it’s critical that our local school districts, athletes, and families exercise ongoing diligence and wise judgment in determining when, where, and how to mount practices and games,” he said. “We can’t risk losing the progress we are making in fighting this virus and reopening our schools and communities.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer said that it was important to get sports going because as well as the physical toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, it has also had a major impact on mental health.
“Children, in particular, have suffered significant mental harms due to the isolation of not being in school consistently, not socializing with friends and family, and not partaking in extracurricular actives,” he said. “We know there is not a quick fix, but we also know that science has shown us, time and time again, that certain actives can resume with proper precautions put in place.
“To be clear, there will be protective protocols in place, and these additional precautions are to protect the athletes,” Latimer added. "But, I am in favor of providing our children with some normalcy so that they can begin to heal from this horrific pandemic.”
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