FOOTBALL: DPH puts the ball back in CIAC’s court

FOOTBALL: DPH puts the ball back in CIAC’s court

CHESHIRE — With the weekend over, the ongoing debate of whether high school football will be played in Connecticut this fall has picked right back up.

After presenting strategies on how to lower the risk of playing 11-on-11 tackle football to the Connecticut Department of Public Health and state officials in Hartford on Friday, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference received feedback Monday afternoon.   

In a letter from Acting Commissioner Deirdre Gifford, DPH continued to recommend substituting high-risk activities with ones considered moderate or lower risk.

DPH also advocated postponing high-risk activities to a later time when other health strategies may be more available and better studied.

Lastly, DPH encouraged the CIAC to continue to work with its Sports Medicine Committee, in consultation with the National Federation of High Schools, to determine whether the mitigation standards the CIAC proposed to lower the risk for football meet those set by the NFHS.

In last Friday’s meeting, the CIAC made several proposals, including wearing face masks or face shields, limiting the number of people on the sidelines and designating areas for players to take off their helmets and have a breath. There might also be modifications to punt and kickoff returns.

In response, DPH agreed that most of the ideas align well with public health recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19. And yet DPH also noted there is no scientific knowledge that proves that a plastic shield or cloth covering over the front grill of a helmet prevents the spread of respiratory droplets among players and is safe for high school players to wear during play. 

Without additional data or documentation, DPH concluded it couldn’t definitively say whether or not these technologies could be safe to use or work effectively for infection control.

On Monday, CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said the DPH letter has been forwarded to the Board of Control voting members. The board will convene in the next few days and an update will be provided after the meeting.

“The CIAC thanks DPH for its detailed response and guidance,” stated Lungarini.

Under the CIAC fall sports plan, teams are currently in the third and final week of non-contact workouts in cohorts of 10 athletes for one hour a day. On Sunday, with COVID-19 data taken from in-person school instruction, the CIAC will decide if squads can move to full-team practices on Monday, Sept. 21 and proceed on course to starting the regular season on Oct. 1.

While the football season remains up in the air, football teams are still able to practice. Lungarini has said the CIAC hopes to have a plan for football by Sunday.

Following last Friday’s meeting with CIAC, Gifford said that DPH would review the new material, but added her agency is unlikely to change its stance that tackle football is a high-risk sport that should be moved to next year.

At a press conference on Monday, Governor Ned Lamont reiterated his view that football will be safer if moved to February or the next spring. However, Lamont had already stated that the CIAC will ultimately decide if football is played this fall.

Along with football, DPH has expressed concern about playing volleyball this fall, but in requiring players to wear masks, the CIAC feels it has addressed the risk of droplets being transmitted during play.

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