The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently issued new guidance on youth sports participation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance recommends youth sports games and scrimmages resume as of June 24 or later for outdoor sports and July 1 or later for indoor sports.
The new guidance seeks to balance the goals of minimizing disease transmission and allowing young people to engage in sports activities that have important physical, emotional and social benefits. Teams can start returning to competition by following MDH’s guidance.
The guidance also outlines preferred timelines for games. More information is available on the MDH Web site at www.health.state.mn.us.
The guidance conforms to that of many national sports organizations, which suggest returning to game play in a phased approach. This may include spending time on individual development, then moving to intra-team scrimmages and finally moving to inter-team games.
“It is important that we look for opportunities to allow children to engage in activities that promote health and well-being,” said Jan Malcolm, Minnesota commissioner of health. “While several key metrics show COVID-19 transmission is slowing, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Learning to live with COVID-19 means finding ways to balance risks and benefits, and that’s what we are seeking to do with this guidance.”
“Organized sports brings athletes together from different backgrounds, and it helps them to create lifelong bonds with mentors, teammates, coaches and fellow competitors,” said Tarek Tomes, MNIT commissioner. "The new guidance, shaped by the partnerships we have built and the conversations we have had with members of the organized sports community, empowers Minnesotans to stay as safe as possible while resuming competitive play around the sports that we love.”
Continued dial turns toward more openness and activity across the state depend in large part on the willingness and ability of Minnesotans to practice the important everyday steps that help slow the spread of COVID-19. This includes practicing social distancing, wearing masks when in public, getting tested if you have symptoms and staying home when they are sick.
With that in mind, the new guidance asks coaches, staff and spectators to practice social distancing and to wear a face covering at all times. Players are asked to wear a face covering when possible.
All adults and children involved in the activities should wash or sanitize hands often and keep hands away from their faces.
Organizations are required to have a COVID-19 preparedness plan that integrates health department guidance as well as current social distancing and social gathering requirements.
Additional precautions in the new guidance include:
• Avoid sharing individual water bottles, community snacks or towels.
• Encourage use of dedicated personal equipment such as bats, mitts, rackets, etc.
• Find new ways to show sportsmanship – tip your hats instead of exchanging handshakes.
• Ensure policies are considerate of staff, volunteers and participants at the highest risk of complications from COVID-19.
• Adhere to social distancing recommendations when participants are not playing (on the bench, in the dugout, etc.).
• Practice social distancing of six feet from other households during player drop-off and pick-up.
• Friends and family should not attend practices to avoid crowding.
• Maintain health checks and screening of participants and staff/volunteers.
• Organizations should require participants and family members to stay home when they are sick.
State officials acknowledge that many will be eager to return to activities, but there will also be some who may not wish to return to group activities this summer. It is important for organizations and other participants to give people space to make decisions that work best for them and their families.
“This guidance can help organizations and teams reduce risk, but in the end everyone has to make their own decisions about what level of risk they are willing to accept,” Malcolm said. “Some families, especially those with members who face an elevated risk of severe illness, may choose not to participate. That is perfectly OK, and everyone needs to respect that decision when a family or a player makes it.”
The state guidance was developed in collaboration with stakeholders including the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission and the Higher Education Athletic Task Force.
In addition, the Minnesota Department of Education is partnering with the Minnesota State High School League to develop activities and sports guidance for schools following MDH recommendations. Fall guidance will be available soon. The new guidance also provides clarifications and recommendations for adult sports competitions this summer.
- Image courtesy of the Internet Public Domain