Suffolk County gives OK for high-risk school sports

New safety measures include weekly COVID-19 testing for student athletes, officials say


Student athletes participating in sports deemed “high-risk” can return to the field Feb. 1 under new guidelines established by the Suffolk County Health Department, county officials announced Monday, Jan. 25.

The comprehensive plan created by county officials, Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and the school athletics governing body Section XI, will again allow approximately 21,500 student athletes to participate in high-risk sports, including boys and girls basketball, wrestling and competitive cheerleading.

“As a parent, I understand just how critical of an outlet sports are for our youth,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a press conference. “...We are committed to working with all of our partners to ensure our student athletes who have been on the sidelines for months are able to get back in the game they love.”

Just last week, the New York State Department of Health announced that high-risk sports would be permitted as directed by county health departments.

Section XI athletics president Tom Combs said that the speedy collaboration between Section XI, the superintendent’s association and county officials following that announcement is a prime example of teamwork. “This is a day that we weren't quite sure would happen this year,” Combs said.

Under the new measures, players and coaches will have their temperature taken prior to practice and games. The regulation makes Suffolk County the first in the state to mandate weekly testing of student athletes in the sport category.

Bellone said the County has already received 20,000 rapid tests from the state which will be distributed to local school districts for free.

Suffolk County School Superintendents Association president Ronald Masera said the County has continuously demonstrated its ability to adapt in the face of adversary.

“We have the ability to put systems in place to keep kids safe,” Masera said, “and we'll be able to do it again.”

Players and coaches will also be required to: wear a mask as often as possible, follow social distancing guidelines, wash and/or sanitize their hands before and after games and upon touching equipment, reduce the use of shared equipment, maintain attendance logs of players, staff and coaches, always play outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, and consider playing in small groups.

Before hitting the field or mat, athletes will sign a “Champion of the Community Pledge” from the County, which encourages players to protect themselves and others against the virus.

“This pledge essentially will send the message and reinforce the message that our conduct off the field is going to be just as important, if not more important, than our conduct on the field,” Bellone said.

Last year, Section XI announced plans to run three shortened sports seasons for JV and Varsity athletes, starting with winter from January 4 to February 27, then fall sports from March 1 to April 25, and the spring sports season from April 26 to June 19.

Earlier this month, low and moderate risk winter sports including, boys and girls winter track, fencing, bowling and boys swimming resumed in Suffolk County.

Following CDC and New York State guidance, if a student participating in high-risk sports is found to be COVID-19 positive, they will be required to adhere to a 10-day quarantine, and each coach will be required to supply information to the County Health Department for a comprehensive case and contact tracing investigation, according to a county press release.


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