State health officials are busy pursuing two parallel paths — developing plans around a potential resurgence of the coronavirus while setting guidelines for multiple activities as Delaware’s rolling reopening continues.
On Friday, the Delaware Division of Public Health issued guidance surrounding several youth sports, including tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, outdoor basketball, baseball and softball.
All of those sports may resume starting June 15.
But many sports will need to be played differently, with modifications allowing for greater distance between players and even their coaches. Think head-butting in soccer, faceoffs in lacrosse, penalty corners in field hockey, and the number of players on a volleyball court — all will be affected.
DPH wants parents to feel confident that the risk of infection for young athletes is low is coaches, players follow guidelines
At a bi-weekly coronavirus press conference, Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH), said her department considers several sports to be low or medium risk for spread of COVID-19, and that young athletes can resume competition in those activities as long as they adhere to new sports-specific guidance issued by DPH.
Competition between two teams will be allowed, but tournaments are not yet permitted.
Coaches should stagger the arrival and departure times for athletes to reduce close contact. Players, staff, coaches should bring their own water and towels.
In many sports using a ball, DPH suggests that players and coaches using feet, legs or sticks to move the ball, and coaches should discourage use of shared equipment.
The resumption of youth sports aligns with the Phase 2 lifting of other restrictions, which begins on June 15th. Tournaments will be permitted in Phase 3.
Rattay said several factors — including giving confidence to parents that their children will be safe playing sports, and the state’s desire to minimize the risk of a COVID rebound — played into their decision-making around developing sports guidelines.
“We have put a tremendous amount of thought into this a number of folks in our state have really thought through how we can safely help support youth returning to sports,” said Dr. Rattay.
Rattay said she felt it was important to reach out to national organizations for guidance on aspects of the game that might pose greater risks of spreading the disease and how to minimize those risks. “So, for example, USA lacrosse, USA Field Hockey, US Soccer, USA Basketball. Some [organizations] had put a lot more thought into it than others,” said Dr. Rattay.
In evolving conversations with those organizations, Rattay said she asked, “How do we decrease the spread of virus? What are the points in these games where there’s a risk of spread? And how can we address it? We’re not positive we got it right. But, you know, it’s a good starting point,” said Rattay.
What are medium risk sports?
The sports Rattay defined medium risk sports are ones where social distancing is problematic but that guidelines can minimize risk. “…Sports where everybody’s going for the ball at one time and that brings people closer together where they’re often breathing heavy,” she said.
The guidelines can be found here. Highlights include:
- Baseball/Softball: moving batter’s box up or requiring catchers to wear face coverings
- Soccer: consider disallowing headers and body checking
- Lacrosse: coin toss instead of face-off to determine possession
- Flag Football: limit players to six per side; 30-second huddles
- Field hockey: social distance during penalty corners
- Basketball: outside only; zone defense only
- Volleyball: players should stay in their designated zone
DPH says “High risk” sports cannot resume until additional recommendations are provided. Those include ice hockey, football, wrestling and indoor basketball.
Rattay says her agency hasn’t figured out yet safety protocols for high-risk sports.
“We’ll be working with others to put attention to these sports in the not-too-distant future. But at this point, individuals in these high-risk sports can certainly do conditioning, they can do practices, but they need to maintain social distancing at all times,” she said.
Waterparks are also not opening in Phase 2, where state health officials say it’s very hard to social distance and “you’ve got lots of lines,” said Rattay.