New York State education officials are calling on school districts begin to prepare to potentially cancel high-risk sporting events where participants are not fully vaccinated in areas with high COVID-19 transmission.
With the new school year less than a month away, the Education Department released its guidance on reopening schools, including how best to handle sports and extracurricular activities as variants of the virus continue to cause new infections to spike.
Football, volleyball, and competitive cheer and dance are considered to be fall sports at a "higher risk," according to the state health department.
“Due to increased exhalation that occurs during physical activity, some sports can put players, coaches, trainers, and others at increased risk for getting and spreading COVID-19,” officials said.
“Close contact sports and indoor sports are particularly risky. Similar risks might exist for other extracurricular activities, such as band, choir, theater, and school clubs that meet indoors.”
Student-athletes have been advised to refrain from any activities when they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and should be tested for the virus. Students and adults have also been instructed to follow the same school-day policies and procedures during sports and extracurricular activities.
“High-risk sports and extracurricular activities should be virtual or canceled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants are fully vaccinated,” the guide says.
People who are fully vaccinated can refrain from quarantine following a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 if they are asymptomatic, allowing them to continue to participate in in-person learning, sports, and extracurricular activities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than two dozen counties in New York had “high” rates of COVID-19 transmission over the past week, including much of downstate.
The Education Department noted that their guide was recommendations for school districts to follow, not necessarily mandates. It will now be up to local school officials to determine how best to move forward when students return in the fall.
The guide outlines specific sport-related risk factors based on guidance from the CDC that could impact transmission risk:
- Setting of the sporting event or activity: "In general, the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower when playing outdoors than in indoor settings. Consider the ability to keep physical distancing in various settings at the sporting event (i.e., fields, benches/team areas, locker rooms, spectator viewing areas, spectator facilities/restrooms, etc.);"
- Physical closeness: "Spread of COVID-19 is more likely to occur in sports that require sustained close contact (such as wrestling, hockey, football);"
- Number of people: "Risk of spread of COVID-19 increases with increasing numbers of athletes, spectators, teachers, and staff;
- Level of intensity of activity: "The risk of COVID-19 spread increases with the intensity of the sport;"
- Duration of time: "The risk of COVID-19 spread increases the more time athletes, coaches, teachers, staff, and spectators spend in close proximity or in indoor group settings. This includes time spent traveling to/from sporting events, meetings, meals, and other settings related to the event."
Complete guidance from the state Education Department can be found here.
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