Here’s What High School Sports Will Look Like in Future Phases of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Manalapan, NJThe National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has released guidance for its 51 member state high school associations to consider in re-opening high school athletics and other activity programs across the nation and it’s not looking good.

The guidance document was developed by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), a 15-member advisory committee composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives that regularly develops position statements related to medical aspects of conducting high school athletics.   Michael Koester, M.D., chair of the NFHS SMAC, stressed that the guidance developed by the committee is intended as ideas for state associations to consider with their respective sports medicine committees and state health departments in designing return-to-activity plans that will be in accordance with state or local restrictions.   

Similar to the manner in which different parts of the country have re-opened ahead of others due to containment levels of the virus, the guidance document was developed with the realization that there likely will be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held from one part of the country to another.   Along those same lines, the NFHS guidance document describes staged approach to re-opening high school sports and other activities, similar to the phases of “opening up” outlined by the White House last month. The committee suggests that state high school associations consult with their state and local health departments for determining the appropriate dates for implementing a phased-in approach within their respective states.  

“We are greatly indebted to the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for its work in formulating this guidance for re-opening high school athletics and activities,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director. “It is important to be clear that this is guidance for individual states to consider as they return to activities this fall. States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments.” 


The guidance developed for state associations suggests a possible sport breakdown for higher risk, moderate risk and lower risk, with the basis for the breakdown tied to the potential exposure to respiratory droplets. As an example, the interaction of participants in higher-risk sports such as football and wrestling present more of a concern for transmission of the virus than lower-risk sports like individual running events and golf.  

We believe this guidance document will be a tremendous resource for our member state associations as they determine the timetables for re-opening sports and activities,” Niehoff said. “The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee utilized recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as some return-to-play considerations by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), in formulating this guidance document for re-opening athletics and other activities in our nation’s schools.”   

The NFHS guidance document also addresses a possible progression for returning to activities, hygiene practices, transportation to and from events, social-distancing suggestions during contests and a tiered approach to who should be allowed to attend events.

Decreasing potential exposure to respiratory droplets is the guiding principle behind social distancing and the use of face coverings. It is also the basis of the stratification of risk by sport presented later on in this document. The use of cloth face coverings is meant to decrease the spread of respiratory droplets. As state and local COVID-19 prevalence decreases, the need for strict social distancing and the use of face coverings will lessen. Cloth face coverings should be considered acceptable. There is no need to require or recommend “medical grade” masks for athletic activity.
Any student who prefers to wear a cloth face covering during a contest should be allowed to do so.

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Phase 1 Pre- workout Screening:

• All coaches and students should be screened for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 prior to a workout. Screening includes a temperature check.
• Responses to screening questions for each person should be recorded and stored so that there is a record of everyone present in case a student develops COVID-19 (see Appendix II for sample Monitoring Form).
• Any person with positive symptoms reported should not be allowed to take part in workouts andshould contact his or her primary care provider or other appropriate health-care professional.
• Vulnerable individuals should not oversee or participate in any workouts during Phase 1.

Limitations on Gatherings:

• No gathering of more than 10 people at a time (inside or outside).
• Locker rooms should not be utilized during Phase 1. Students should report to workouts in proper gear and immediately return home to shower at end of the workout.
• Workouts should be conducted in “pods” of students with the same 5-10 students always working out together. Smaller pods can be utilized for weight training. This ensures more limited exposure if someone develops an infection.
• There must be a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times. If this is not possible indoors, then the maximum number of individuals in the room must be decreased until proper social distancing can occur.

Facilities Cleaning:

• Adequate cleaning schedules should be created and implemented for all athletic facilities to mitigate any communicable diseases.
• Prior to an individual or groups of individuals entering a facility, hard surfaces within that facility should
be wiped down and sanitized (chairs, furniture in meeting rooms, locker rooms, weight room equipment, bathrooms, athletic training room tables, etc.).
• Individuals should wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with warm water and soap before touching any surfaces or participating in workouts.
• Hand sanitizer should be plentiful and available to individuals as they transfer from place to place.
• Weight equipment should be wiped down thoroughly before and after an individual’s use of equipment.
• Appropriate clothing/shoes should be worn at all times in the weight room to minimize sweat from transmitting onto equipment/surfaces.
• Any equipment such as weight benches, athletic pads, etc. having holes with exposed foam should be covered.
• Students must be encouraged to shower and wash their workout clothing immediately upon returning to home.

Physical Activity and Athletic Equipment:

• There should be no shared athletic equipment (towels, clothing, shoes, or sports specific equipment) between students.
• Students should wear their own appropriate workout clothing (do not share clothing) individual clothing/towels should be washed and cleaned after every workout.
• All athletic equipment, including balls, should be cleaned after each use and prior to the next workout.
• Individual drills requiring the use of athletic equipment are permissible, but the equipment should be cleaned prior to use by the next individual.
• Resistance training should be emphasized as body weight, sub-maximal lifts and use of resistance bands.
• Free weight exercises that require a spotter cannot be conducted while honoring social distancing norms. Safety measures in all forms must be strictly enforced in the weight room.
• Examples (including by limited to):

  •  A basketball player can shoot with a ball(s), but a team should not practice/pass a single ball among the team where multiple players touch the same ball.
  • A football player should not participate in team drills with a single ball that will be handed off or passed to other teammates. Contact with other players is not allowed, and there should be no
    sharing of tackling dummies/donuts/sleds.
  • A volleyball player should not use a single ball that others touch or hit in any manner.
  • Softball and baseball players should not share gloves, bats, or throw a single ball that will be tossed among the team. A single player may hit in cages, throw batting practice (with netting as backstop, no catcher). Prior to another athlete using the same balls, they should be collected and cleaned individually.
  • Wrestlers may skill and drill without touching a teammate.
  • Cheerleaders may not practice/perform partner stunts or building. (Chants, jumps, dances without contact are permissible.)
  • Tennis players may do individual drills, wall volleys and serves.
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Runners should maintain the recommended 6 feet of distancing between individual

Hydration:

• All students shall bring their own water bottle. Water bottles must not be shared.
• Hydration stations (water cows, water trough, water fountains, etc.) should not be utilized.

Phase 2 Pre-Workout/Contest Screening:

• All coaches and students should be screened for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 prior to a workout. Screening includes a temperature check.
• Responses to screening questions for each person should be recorded and stored so that there is a record of everyone present in case a student develops COVID-19 (see Appendix II for sample Monitoring Form).
• Any person with positive symptoms reported should not be allowed to take part in workouts and should contact his or her primary care provider or other appropriate health-care professional.
• Vulnerable individuals should not oversee or participate in any workouts during Phase 2.

Limitations on Gatherings:

• No gathering of more than 10 people at a time inside. Up to 50 individuals may gather outdoors for workouts.
• If locker rooms or meeting rooms are used, there must be a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times.
• Workouts should be conducted in “pods” of students with the same 5-10 students always working out together. Smaller pods can be utilized for weight training. This ensures more limited exposure if someone develops an infection.
• There must be a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times. If this is not possible indoors, then the maximum number of individuals in the room must be decreased until proper social distancing can occur. Appropriate social distancing will need to be maintained on sidelines and benches during practices. Consider using tape or paint as a guide for students and coaches.

Facilities Cleaning:

• Adequate cleaning schedules should be created and implemented for all athletic facilities to mitigate any communicable diseases.
• Prior to an individual or groups of individuals entering a facility, hard surfaces within that facility should be wiped down and sanitized (chairs, furniture in meeting rooms, locker rooms, weight room equipment, bathrooms, athletic training room tables, etc.).
• Individuals should wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with warm water and soap before touching any surfaces or participating in workouts.
• Hand sanitizer should be plentiful and available to individuals as they transfer from place to place.
• Weight equipment should be wiped down thoroughly before and after an individual’s use of equipment.
• Appropriate clothing/shoes should be worn at all times in the weight room to minimize sweat from transmitting onto equipment/surfaces.
• Any equipment such as weight benches, athletic pads, etc. having holes with exposed foam should be overed.
• Students must be encouraged to shower and wash their workout clothing immediately upon returning to home.

Physical Activity and Athletic Equipment:

• Lower risk sports practices and competitions may resume (see Potential Infection Risk by Sport below).
• Modified practices may begin for Moderate risk sports.
• There should be no shared athletic towels, clothing or shoes between students.
• Students should wear their own appropriate workout clothing (do not share clothing), and individual clothing/towels should be washed and cleaned after every workout.
• All athletic equipment, including balls, should be cleaned intermittently during practices and contests.
• Hand sanitizer should be plentiful at all contests and practices.
• Athletic equipment such as bats, batting helmets and catchers gear should be cleaned between each use.
• Maximum lifts should be limited and power cages should be used for squats and bench presses. Spotters should stand at each end of the bar.

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Hydration:

• All students shall bring their own water bottle. Water bottles must not be shared.
• Hydration stations (water cows, water trough, water fountains, etc.) should not be utilized.

Phase 3 Pre- Workout/Contest Screening:

• Any person who has had a fever or cold symptoms in the previous 24 hours should not be allowed to take part in workouts and should contact his or her primary care provider or other appropriate healthcare professional.
• A record should be kept of all individuals present.
• Vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions, but should practice physical distancing, minimizing exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practical, unless precautionary measures are observed.

Limitations on Gatherings:

• Gathering sizes of up to 50 individuals, indoors or outdoors.
• When not directly participating in practices or contests, care should be taken to maintain a minimum distance of 3 to 6 feet between each individual. Consider using tape or paint as a guide for students and coaches.

Facilities Cleaning:

• Adequate cleaning schedules should be created and implemented for all athletic facilities to mitigate any communicable diseases.
• Prior to an individual or groups of individuals entering a facility, hard surfaces within that facility should be wiped down and sanitized (chairs, furniture in meeting rooms, locker rooms, weight room equipment, bathrooms, athletic training room tables, etc.).
• Individuals should wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with warm water and soap before touching any surfaces or participating in workouts.
• Hand sanitizer should be plentiful and available to individuals as they transfer from place to place.
• Weight equipment should be wiped down thoroughly before and after an individual’s use of equipment.
• Appropriate clothing/shoes should be worn at all times in the weight room to minimize sweat from transmitting onto equipment/surfaces.
• Any equipment such as weight benches, athletic pads, etc. having holes with exposed foam should be covered.
• Students must be encouraged to shower and wash their workout clothing immediately upon returning to home.

Physical Activity and Athletic Equipment:

  • • Moderate risk sports practices and competitions may begin.
    • There should be no shared athletic towels, clothing or shoes between students.
    • Students should wear their own appropriate workout clothing (do not share clothing), and individual clothing/towels should be washed and cleaned after every workout.
    • Hand sanitizer should be plentiful at all contests and practices.
    • Athletic equipment such as bats, batting helmets and catchers gear should be cleaned between each use. Other equipment, such as hockey helmets/pads, wrestling ear guards, football helmets/other pads, lacrosse helmets/pads/gloves/eyewear should be worn by only one individual and not shared.
    • Maximum lifts should be limited and power cages should be used for squats and bench presses. Spotters should stand at each end of the bar.
    • Modified* practices may begin for Higher risk sports

 

  • o *C