No Interstate Tournaments, Conditioning Only for High Risk Sports, as State Issues New Winter Season Guidance and Rules

The Connecticut Department of Public Health Monday released updated comprehensive sports guidance incorporating sports to be played in the winter season for interscholastic leagues, recreational, and private leagues for youth and adults.

Among the major recommendations, the guidance specified:

  • Indoor high-risk sports:  conditioning only.
  • Indoor moderate risk sports:  mask wearing for all participants, including during active play.
  • Indoor low-risk sports:  mask wearing for all participants, including during active play, with exceptions for sports where athletes are not expected to be in close contact.
  • Multi-state teams or competition:  Suspended.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said that Wilton sports groups are expected to contact Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce with revised proposed return to play protocols that incorporate the state guidance. She also noted that Wilton’s Health Director Barry Bogle and Wilton Public School officials will work together on revised school sports protocols.

Categorizing Risk by Sports and then by Activities

The department’s recommendations will be codified as part of the updated sector rules on sports from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), and do not apply to college-level or professional athletics. This revision updates comprehensive sports guidance released on Sept. 25 and state officials say it is intended to guide local health departments, municipalities, and league organizers in assessing the risk of play, and to offer suggestions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection to players, coaches, parents, and spectators.

This guidance is based on a risk assessment for COVID-19 conducted by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee of the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS), a national organization governing high school athletics. The guidance includes a description of the risk categories for sports, breaks down the risks of different activities associated with those sports, and makes recommendations for each of those activities.

According to the guidance document, the NFHS assigned risk categories by considering direct COVID-19 is primarily spread between people via respiratory droplets. They examined “factors associated with the generation of respiratory droplets and the dynamics of their travel between individuals,” in relation to how each sport is normally played, how much close contact is required and whether mitigation strategies can be implemented. The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee also followed guidance from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

Table 1:  Risk Categorizations with Associated Sports
National Federation of State High School Associations, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, May 2020

The NFHS then ranked the risk for various types of progressive activity categories that are generally similar across sports, taking into account the size of the group participating in the activity, the ability of participants to follow mitigation protocols (distancing, mask-wearing, hand hygiene), the ability of coaches or other supervisors to control and ensure compliance from participants, where the activity is taking place, and the dynamics of contact and potential respiratory droplet spread involved with each activity (listed in order of risk):

  • Tier 1: Individual one-to-one training, Small group aerobic conditioning, Small group sport-specific non-contact skill development drills
  • Tier 2: Team practices, Intra-squad scrimmages
  • Tier 3: Interscholastic or in-state contests (2 teams)
  • Tier 4: In-state multi-team meets or tournaments
  • Tier 5: Interscholastic or other contests between teams from different states or teams that include athletes from different states

For each sport risk level, the NFHS either recommends allowing the activity (only outdoor); recommends if appropriate modifications are possible (indoor); or does not recommend.

Indoor activity is recommended to be “limited to the extent possible,” as long as appropriate mitigation strategies for indoor settings can be used, including face-covering masks, 6 ft. or more of social distancing, equipment cleaning/sanitizing, etc.)

For all sports, the guidance categorizes competitions and tournaments where teams and players are from different states as “does not recommend.”

“As we get into the winter season, there is a higher level of community spread of COVID-19 than there was a few months ago, and that impacts athletes in all sports, especially those played indoors,” Acting Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre S. Gifford said. “It is still important to remain as physically active as possible during the winter and I encourage that. It will be important going forward that sports league or event organizers give their coaches and players the tools to mitigate risks of transmission as much as possible. For our youth, this also clearly applies uniformly to sports played as part of a school-based league and private or recreational leagues. We have seen clusters of cases related to individual teams and sporting events, and this can be very disruptive to schools if youth or anyone else exposed then needs to quarantine due to exposure. Even though the effects of COVID-19 in youth tend to be less significant, children can easily spread infection to more vulnerable members of our community if exposed.”

DECD Commissioner David Lehman said that the state’s broader reopening strategy has always been focused on finding a balance between allowing as much social and economic activity as possible keeping residents safe. “Sports is certainly no exception,” Lehman said. “We know how much these types of activities mean to our overall quality of life in Connecticut and I feel these new guidelines offer a smart path forward during the critical winter months.”

The full sports guidance document can be found online and is meant to be used as a tool to help organizers of athletic leagues for both children and adults.