Connecticut DPH urges ‘very cautious approach’ in response to CIAC fall sports plan; suggests pushing football to spring

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HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — One day after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) released its plan to move forward with fall sports, the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) responded with a letter to the CIAC, advising caution. That caution includes pushing football back to the spring or canceling it altogether.

The letter, written by acting Commissioner Deidre Gifford to CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini, Gifford acknowledges the “real and significant benefits of high school athletics for student health and well-being” but also advises a “very cautious approach to athletics.”

The letter also says that DPH recommends the following for the fall sports season:

  • Postpone the start of any interscholastic sports activities (including conditioning and practice sessions) until at least two weeks after the reopening of in-person instruction in schools. As schools begin welcoming students back into their buildings, communities will be able to assess the proper implementation of the mitigation strategies outlined in the State Department of Education’s re-opening guidance and put into place any necessary corrective actions. It makes sense from a public health perspective to allow this process to become well-established before introducing sports.
  • For all sports, limit the total number of games, and extent of travel for interscholastic contests (for example having 12 total games, one home and one away with the six closest schools).
  • For all athletics in the 2020 academic year, the use of locker rooms should be limited when possible, and strict cleaning and other protocols must be in place to ensure the safety of locker rooms. Ensure coaches and athletes understand and comply with strict face covering, social distancing, and other controls for each sport prior to the initiation of the season.
  • With proper education and mitigation strategies in place, consider allowing indoor and outdoor fall sports identified as “lower risk” by the National Federation of State High SchoolAssociations (NFHS), Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC). In Connecticut, these sports are boys’ and girls’ cross country and girls’ swimming.
  • With proper education and mitigation strategies in place, consider allowing outdoor fall sports identified as “moderate risk” by the NFHS, SMAC. In Connecticut, these sports are boys’ and girls’ soccer. In these sports, because there is intermittent and limited close contact between athletes, cohorting of student-athletes during practice activities should also be considered.
  • Postpone to the spring season or cancel indoor sports identified as “moderate risk” by the NFHS, SMAC. In Connecticut, this includes girls’ volleyball. Although there is infrequent close contact between opposing players involved with this sport, the fact that activities for this sport are occurring indoors and involve significant physical exertion and forceful communication with teammates, the risk for person-to-person spread of infectious droplets is elevated for this specific sport.
  • Postpone to the spring season or cancel sports identified as “higher risk” by the NFHS, SMAC. In Connecticut, this includes football. Full-contact football is unique among the fall interscholastic sports in our state in its level of risk to student-athletes for the person-to-person spread of infectious respiratory droplets. As you are aware, most of the collegiate conferences and many state high school interscholastic sport organizations have already postponed or canceled football for the upcoming season.

The DPH commissioner’s letter wrapped up by emphasizing the organization’s willingness to work with the CIAC as the school year approaches, saying “DPH will continue to work closely with CAS-CIAC and the Connecticut State Department of Education to support a model for school reopening that we believe will minimize the health and safety risks to our children, school staff, and their families while allowing them to regain their identities as teachers, students, classmates, and athletes.”

The CIAC emphasized when releasing its plan Wednesday that the organization realizes the need for flexibility depending on how the reopening of schools is impacted by the coronavirus.

In a statement to News 8 Thursday afternoon, the CIAC responded to the DPH saying, “The CIAC appreciates the detailed position provided by DPH this morning on the topic of fall interscholastic athletics. As has been stated throughout this process, the Board of Control will review any new information as soon as it becomes available, and it will be doing that with these recommendations in detail. After reviewing its proposed fall sports plan with the Connecticut Rules Committee, which included DPH staff, on July 24, CIAC requested DPH’s position on football on July 28. That request resulted in a phone conversation with DPH staff. The CIAC Board is appreciative to have received such detailed information following its additional consults.”

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