NOTE: This report has been updated throughout.
The state has issued new guidelines on fall sports, saying they can go on, but those participating in a high-risk sports such as football or wrestling must wear face coverings to play, among other things.
The new rules, set into law as the 26th modification to Gov. John Carney’s State of Emergency order governing all things related to the COVID-19 pandemic, also require leagues to apply to be able to play and require any facilities that are hosting events to follow cleaning and other guidelines that mimic those schools must follow.
An embargoed copy of a press release appeared on the Facebook Group Delaware HS Athletes Parents Group early Tuesday afternoon before it was released by Carney’s office. That group and others have been advocating to overturn the decision of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, which voted to shorten all high school sports seasons and put fall play between winter and spring.
“I know the DIAA when it made its original judgment decision on sports this fall made it on the basis of a whole series of criteria, not just the public health criteria,” Carney said. “My guess is that they’ll take another look at it. I would encourage them to take another look at it with the new guidance that we’re providing today.”
Many have asked why high schools are not playing, but youth leagues are registering players and seem set to play. Carney has said several times that the youth leagues worried him, and last week, Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said the state was looking at new rules about sports but she didn’t elaborate.
The new guidelines divide fall sports into three categories:
- High risk: Activities that involve sustained or repeated close contact. Includes ice hockey, basketball, tackle football, boys’/men’s lacrosse, wrestling, boxing, rugby, competitive cheer, martial arts, ultimate frisbee and pairs figure skating.
- Medium risk: Activities that involve participants in close proximity and typically involve intermittent personal contact. Includes baseball, softball, field hockey, girls’/women’s lacrosse, soccer, flag or 7-on-7 football, team running, running clubs and track and field, team swimming, rowing (other than with household members), sailing, volleyball, dance class, fencin, and gymnastics.
- Low risk: Activities that are either individual or able to be completed with adequate social distancing and no direct physical contact. Includes singles tennis, golf, individual running and swimming, pickleball, disc golf, individual biking, surfing, horseback riding, individual sailing, fishing, hunting, motor sports and singles rowing.
Delaware’s new rules modify guidelines released in June by the state. Carney said then that he could not imagine that football could be played with face coverings. Now he can.
The guidelines announced Tuesday allowed some flexibility because up until now, many of the sports had not been allowed, Carney said.
“So now for the first time we do have guidance here and it mostly centers around wearing protection and keeping those respiratory particles from escaping from one player to another,” the governor said.
Carney and Jamie Mack, director of Public Health Systems Protection, said they and state workers had looked at a lot of tournaments and facilities before the guidelines were made.
Carney said he watched an Alabama high school game over the weekend on ESPN.
“That’s not the way we’re going to propose to do it here in Delaware,” Carney said. Players, coaches and spectators there were not wearing masks or socially distancing, he said.
“I tried to simplify the guidance that was earlier made public,” Carney said during the press conference. “So the main thing is to encourage all athletes, coaches, parents, referees, everybody involved in the event to take the guidance and the guidelines seriously. And the most important thing is to wear a mask.”
Mack, director of Public Health Systems Protection, said football players may be more successful wearing a gaiter face covering instead of a traditional mask. Gaiters are stretchy material that sit on the neck and are raised over the nose and mouth.
“We’re not being prescriptive with this,” Mack said. “We’re not describing how to do face coverings in football … We don’t want public health to figure out how to do these sports. The players, the coaches, the families, the communities are going to be much better positioned to tell us how we can safely do it.”
Among the new guidelines:
- Players should wear face coverings and social distance where possible.
- Benches and dugouts will be subject to social distance rules, partly because observers at games that have been played say no one is following those guidelines.
- Referees must wear face coverings and they will have to find an alternative to whistles. The yelling that refs must to do be heard and the power of air through a whistle means any virus particles are accelerated through the air.
- Coaches mush wear face coverings and social distance from any kid who is not a member of their own household.
- Parents and other spectators must social distance while watching, but can take off masks. If they move from their seats, they must wear masks.
- Children’s school gear needs to be spread out, so the kids aren’t bunching up in a group to grab it after a game.
- Hand sanitizer should be available during games if players want to use it.
- Hands must be washed for at least 20 seconds before and after games and practices.
- Facilities must disinfect high touch, high contact surfaces such as light switches, door knobs and railings at least every two hours. Other parts of the facilities must be cleaned at least once a day, or according to the schedule of activities.
- Facilities must develop protocols for things like arrival and departure procedures, health assessments and dealing with players who may develop symptoms during a game or practice.
- The shared used of locker rooms, water fountains and equipment is discouraged.
- Each facility must identify a COVID-19 coordinator.
- All tournaments and indoor activities must be approved by the Division of Public Health.