By Nick Stevens, HighSchoolOT managing editor
Raleigh, N.C. — The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines for high school and youth sports on Friday evening.
The guidance covers a number of topics, including the requirement to adhere to mass gathering limits. During phase two, that means no more than ten people indoors and no more than 25 people outdoors.
Recommended guidelines include:
- Close or mark off all common seating areas like dugouts and bleachers or other areas that promote individuals gathering in groups
- Clearly provide 6 feet floor markings on sidelines, waiting lines, and other areas where there may be a group of people.
- Designate and arrange specific equipment for use that is properly spaced at 6 feet apart.
- Consider workouts in groups/pods of individuals with the same group always working out together, including weight training, to limit exposure should someone become sick.
- Remind individuals not to shake hands, give high fives, or fist pumps before, during, or after the game or practice.
- Individuals should refrain from any unnecessary physical contact with others.
- Coaches, officials, and others should modify communication and avoid up close face to face communication.
- Schedule games to include adequate buffer times between games to allow athletes, coaches and staff to enter and exit the facility with limited interaction.
- Where possible, provide separate and clearly marked points of entry and exit for spectators.
- When sinks or showers are not 6 feet apart, consider limiting use to every other sink or shower so individuals can maintain social distancing while using.
- Provide readily available alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
- Personal training services and fitness coaching should practice social distancing to the extent possible. When these services require physical contact between coach and athlete, wash hands immediately prior to and following the contact and face to face contact should be minimal.
The guidelines “strongly recommend” athletes, coaches, staff, and participants wear a cloth face covering when not directly engaged in physical activity.
Additional guidelines cover cleaning, hygiene, monitoring people for symptoms of coronavirus, protecting vulnerable populations, combating misinformation, and water and ventilation systems. You can view the entire document here.
These guidelines are not requirements, only recommendations. The N.C. High School Athletic Association has not released any information yet about the direction it will go with resuming high school sports.
“We have been in communication with the Department of Health and Human Services concerning next steps for a return to athletic activities across the state. Since we have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the guidelines mentioned by the Governor and Dr. Cohen with a broader audience in our membership, we will spend the next several days discussing options, opportunities and best practices for resuming activity with our board of directors and sports medicine advisory committee, in addition to other stakeholder groups such as principals, athletic directors, coaches groups, etc. These conversations will help us determine a more specific and detailed path forward,” the NCHSAA said in a written statement.
The NCHSAA plans to hold a press conference on May 26, at 4 p.m.
The guidelines released by NCDHHS focus on promoting activity with non-contact sports, according to Sec. Mandy Cohen of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
“We know that contact sports, like basketball or football, where you’re in each other’s personal spaces, where you’re breathing out respiratory droplets on one another, we know that is a higher way of spreading the virus as opposed to non-contact sports like tennis, or baseball, or individual sports like swimming or golf,” Cohen said in a press conference on Friday. “Those non-contact sports, we said that it is fine to proceed from a recommendation perspective, but then we do have some guidance on how to do each of those activities safely. We’re not recommending contact sports go forward, but for non-contact sports to go forward but with some guidelines.”
Gov. Roy Cooper said his staff has been working closely with the NCHSAA during the pandemic to develop a plan to safely move forward.
“Sports are so important to the formation of character, for fitness. I love sports. I grew up participating on sports teams all the way through high school and I know how important they can be for the education of children,” Cooper said. “This is something we want to have happen as much as we can as we approach the school year. At the same time, we have to understand the presence of COVID-19, and I don’t think that we have all of the answers to those questions yet.”
Earlier this week, the National Federation of State High School Associations released guidance for state associations across the country to use when determining how and when to restart high school sports. The guidelines, which the NCHSAA is not required to adhere to, identify lower risk, moderate risk, and higher risk sports, while implementing a three-phased plan to resume based on the risk.
The NCHSAA announced earlier this month that it will end the coronavirus dead period on June 1. It has been in place since Mar. 13, but before sports can resume, schools must have clearance from state and local governments, including individal school districts.