SPORT IN A PANDEMIC: DPH updates guidelines; Meriden club football remains OK; hoops & hockey may be next battleground

SPORT IN A PANDEMIC: DPH updates guidelines; Meriden club football remains OK; hoops & hockey may be next battleground

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MERIDEN — Wrestling and boys lacrosse are deemed high risk. Basketball and ice hockey might be better off played in the spring.

11-on-11 football — not just games, but full-team practice — is still taboo.

And competition against squads from states on Connecticut’s travel advisory list should be avoided at all costs.

So read the highlights of the updated COVID-19 guidelines for sports issued Friday by the state Department of Public Health.

Previously, the DPH had made recommendations for just high school fall sports. Friday’s update covers all sports at all levels — scholastic, club, recreational — for kids and adults.

It brings the DPH in sync with the guidelines laid down earlier this year by the National Federation of High School Associations, the umbrella under which the CIAC and other state high school sports organizations operate.

It also, in all likelihood, sets the stage for potential future battles like the one seen earlier this month over CIAC football.

What the updated DPH rules do not do is enforce anything. They’re recommendations only, geared toward communities and local health departments, which hold the authority to decide what can and can’t be played in their jurisdictions.

Here in Meriden, that means the approval the city gave Thursday to 11-on-11 club football for Platt and Maloney remains good.

So long as the Meriden Board of Education gives it OK, and so long as the teams follow state and local health and safety protocols and keep free of COVID-19, Platt and Maloney will be able to play traditional football this fall, if only against each other.

“It hasn’t changed anything regarding the city’s stance,” City Manager Timothy Coon said Friday. “We recommend it, it’s going to occur, but if you do read the new sports guidance you see they encourage the protocols.

“The advice is no different than it was beforehand,” Coon also noted. “As a matter of fact, (DPH) took language that had already been issued by the (NFHS), which we had seen before. It was good documention that was in the previous report. DPH’s report was good to incorporate that language as well.”

The new DPH guidelines rank sports by risk of COVID-19 spread, from high to moderate to low, and then recommend what level of activity should and shouldn’t be allowed in each.

The sports identified as high risk are 11-on-11 football, wrestling, boys lacrosse and competitive cheer and dance. No activity of any kind is recommended for those sports aside from conditioning and non-contact skill work in small groups.

The low-risk activities are cross country, individual running and swimming events, weightlifting and throwing events, sideline cheerleading, skiing and golf. Any activity is OK in those sports save for competition against states on Connecticut’s travel advisory list.

Moderate risk is the biggest group, and it’s divided into which sports play outdoors (most of the spring and fall lineup) and which play inside (primarily basketball and ice hockey). 

The only thing being ruled out of bounds for the outdoor moderates is out-of-state play.

The indoor group is on a shorter leash. The DPH advises against full-team practices and in-state games, even suggesting that winter sports like basketball and ice hockey get pushed to spring unless “additional safe and effective strategies can be developed and implemented, in consultation with sports medicine advisors, to significantly mitigate the spread of respiratory droplet emissions among participants.”

Bottom line: the push-and-pull this fall between the CIAC and DPH before the CIAC cancelled 11-on-11 football for 2020 could be reprised heading into the 2020-21 winter season.

The DPH did say the guidelines will be revisited later this fall and early this winter as more insight is gained into COVID-19 and as the pandemic progresses.

“The COVID-19 pandemic does not mean all organized sports should stop,” DPH Acting Commissioner Deidre Gifford stated in Friday’s report. “In fact, DPH recognizes the importance of physical activity for the health and well-being of everyone during this stressful period.

”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.”

All fall sports except football are on course to play an abbreviated season starting October 1. (A late winter/early spring option is being held out for football.).

This week, cross country, soccer, field hockey, girls swimming and girls volleyball teams moved to longer, full-team practices this week. They can expand to scrimmages next week before Thursday’s opening day.

Volleyball has made the greatest adjustment. Athletes will play wearing masks.

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