The Department of Public Health issued broad new recommendations Friday advising youth and adults against playing “high-risk” sports like football and wrestling in private or local leagues.
The new guidance makes recommendations on most sports for youth, adult, and private league play. It follows up the department’s previous recommendations on scholastic fall sports and is based on a risk assessment by the National Federation of High School Associations.
“This revision is offered given the general expectation of an increase in the number of infections across our state during the fall and winter months, the anticipation that schools and workplaces will bring individuals back together in larger numbers, that colder weather will force more activities indoors, the shift in age distribution of COVID-19 cases in CT to youth and young adults, and the persistently high level of disease transmission in most areas of the United States,” the report reads.
The announcement comes as Meriden announced plans to move forward with play under its own measures intended to manage player exposure. In recent weeks, following the cancellation of play by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, some coaches and parents have moved to create clubs or private leagues so that high school athletes can continue to generate video for college recruitment purposes, among other stated reasons.
The new guidance warns against playing what it considers high-risk sports in any setting other than small-group conditioning and non-contact drills. High-risk sports include wrestling, 11-on-11 football, boys lacrosse, and competitive cheer and dance.
These sports “involve close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants,” the report said.
The recommendations note that the decision whether to play sports is ultimately up to the individual towns and sports organizations, who should evaluate the risks and inform players and parents when appropriate.
“Unfortunately, some team sports present a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 during practice or play, and we recommend that those be either modified or postponed,” acting DPH Commissioner Deidre S. Gifford said in a statement. “We want anyone playing organized sports in Connecticut to be aware of the risks for contracting COVID-19, so everyone can make informed decisions. Our overall goal is for people to have fun and compete, keep physically active and fit, and most importantly stay safe and healthy during this pandemic.”
Other sports considered moderate risk are recommended if they are conducted outdoors or indoors where “appropriate modifications are feasible.” Those sports include basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, water polo, gymnastics, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, girls lacrosse, rowing, various track and field events, and 7-on-7 football. Modifications for indoor play include masks, social distancing, hygiene procedures and cohorting.
More solitary sports like golf, running, weightlifting, and skiing were deemed “lower risk” and are generally allowed.
Gifford said that the pandemic should not stop sports all together.
“In fact, DPH recognizes the importance of physical activity for the health and well-being of everyone during this stressful period,” she said. “We encourage children and adults to engage in lower-risk physical activities as part of a strategy to stay healthy and cope with this pandemic.”
At a press conference late Friday, Gov. Ned Lamont defended the timing of the guidance.
“I think that lent clarity in terms of how we view each and every one of those sports, and how the National High School Association views them,” he said. “I think the timing is pretty good. Sports are just getting going right now and we just got clarity from the national association. So we got it out as fast as we could.”