The state yesterday released new guidelines for youth and recreational sports that will drastically limit allowable activities based on the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.
Gov. JB Pritzker announced the new guidelines at a COVID-19-related news conference in Chicago on Wednesday, July 29 calling it a “situation where the toughest choice is also the safest one”.
The guidelines, which classify sports in three tiers of risk based on the likelihood that participation in the sport increases coronavirus transmission, pertain to school-based sports, travel clubs, private and recreational leagues, and park district sports programs.
The new guidelines, which are set to take effect August 15, do not apply to adults playing tennis and golf, both of which are activities already regulated under guidance issued by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in June.
“(Major League Baseball) is facing down a major outbreak just days into its abbreviated, fan-free season,” Pritzker said, referencing the outbreak that canceled the week’s games for the Miami Marlins. “This virus is unrelenting, and it spreads so easily that no amount of restriction seems to keep it off the playing field or out of the locker room.”
For medium and higher risk sports as classified by the state, the competitive season is effectively canceled. High risk sports include boxing, competitive cheer and dance, football, hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, rugby, ultimate Frisbee and wrestling.
Those sports will be allowed to continue on the first of four specified levels of activity, which is restricted to no-contact practices and trainings. That means no competition at any level.
The Illinois High School Association, which oversees most interschool athletics in Illinois, announced that football, girls volleyball and boys soccer will be moved to spring 2021. They submitted the modified season plan to the Illinois Department of Public Health for approval.
Golf, girls tennis, cross country, and swimming and diving will occur in the fall season, which will run from August 10 to October 24.
Per the IHSA schedule, the winter sports season will run from November 16 to February 13, spring sports will run from February 15 to May 1, and summer sports will run from May 3 to June 26.
Meanwhile, per the governor’s plan, medium risk activities include basketball and wheelchair basketball, fencing, flag football and 7-on-7 football, paintball, racquetball, soccer, volleyball and water polo.
Participants in those sports will be allowed to compete at level two, which includes scrimmage against teammates with parental consent for minors, but also does not allow for outside competition.
Low-risk sports will be allowed to compete in intra-league, intra-conference matches or matches within their emergency medical system regions. State- or league-championship games or meets would be allowed only for low-risk sports.
Baseball and softball are included in this category, provided players and coaches remain at least six feet apart in dugout areas, or players are seated six feet apart in bleachers behind the dugout. If those conditions aren’t met, the sports enter the medium risk category and are not allowed to compete with others.
Bass fishing, sailing, canoeing and kayaking are low-risk too, if the number of people on a boat is limited enough to allow for social distancing. If not, they are medium or higher risk.
Singles ice skating is low risk, but any more than that is high risk. Cross country and cycling are low risk, provided the number of competitors is reduced and workspace guidelines are followed.
Gymnastics, ropes courses and weightlifting are low-risk if the equipment is cleaned between each use, but medium risk if not.
Track and field is low risk, but runners must use every other track and equipment must be frequently cleaned or it’s in the medium category as well.
Swimming and diving is low-risk if restricted to a single lane and singles diving. Relays, synchronized swimming and paired diving are medium risk.
Badminton, archery, bowling, climbing, crew, scholastic golf, disc golf, horseback riding, skateboarding and tennis are all deemed low-risk by the state without any qualifiers.
Sideline spirit sports are considered low risk if participants remain six feet apart and there are no stunts and lifts. Otherwise they are high risk.
“This virus remains dangerous to kids, and parents, and grandparents, and teachers, and coaches, and for right now this is the best thing that we can do for the health and safety of our families under the current circumstances,” Pritzker said.
The announcement came as IDPH reported another 1,393 confirmed cases of the virus among 38,187 tests completed in the previous 24 hours. That accounted for a one-day positivity rate of 3.6 percent, which kept the rolling seven-day rate for the state at 3.8 percent.
“Not only have we started to see an increase in the cases over the past several weeks, but we're also seeing a slight increase in hospital admissions, as well,” IDPH Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at the news conference. “These are clearly indicators that we are headed in the wrong direction.”
She again urged Illinoisans to wear face coverings, remain six feet apart from others and wash hands frequently.
“That's what we can all do. That's what we can all do to protect ourselves our families, our friends, our community, our state,” she said.
Pritzker said the guidelines should not be extrapolated as a comment on how education will be treated when school starts in the fall.
“I think each school is trying to set plans for their school,” he said. “I've said all along here that the (Illinois State Board of Education) has been putting out guidance to make sure that there are some basic requirements like masking in schools that are adhered to. But because each school is so much different—there are different campuses there are differently configured buildings, different numbers of people in a building per square foot – we really want those schools to make decisions for themselves. But there's no doubt about it. I'm watching very closely.”