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CDC Releases Guidelines for Youth Sports

1 Jun, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
…And as Might Be Expected, They Advocate Caution

We’ve seen guidelines for how to have a safe venue. Now from the CDC, we have considerations for safely restarting youth sports.

Considerations for Youth Sports, released on May 19, 2020 (and available here), delineate guiding principles for sports event owners and administrators to keep in mind as they navigate the way back to play, in the capacity available to them.

In the Considerations, the CDC rates sports activities according to the risk to athletes, in terms of exposure to contamination. These run as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone or with family members.
  • Increasing Risk: Team-based practice.
  • More Risk: Within-team competition.
  • Even More Risk: Full competition between teams from the same local geographic area.
  • Highest Risk: Full competition between teams from different geographic areas.

The "Highest Risk" category is bad news for owners of travel tournaments; the "Even More Risk" isn't much better. And some event owners, such as US Youth Soccer, are more given to taking chances with tournaments.

Additionally, the Considerations note, safety measures such as social distancing should be maintained; however, if this can’t be accomplished, it is suggested that organizers consider “dropping down a level and limiting participation to within-team competition only (for example, scrimmages between members of the same team) or team-based practices only. Similarly, if organizations are unable to put in place safety measures during team-based activities, they may choose individual or at-home activities, especially if any members of the team are at high-risk for severe illness.”

Perhaps this is not exactly what many event owners want to hear, and perhaps it does not apply to all jurisdictions, and certainly not to all states. However, the CDC continues, there are additional risk factors. One of these is the age of youth athletes. Older children are more likely to understand and follow directions regarding social distancing, hand washing and not sharing equipment like water bottles. In some cases, parents or volunteers will need to be ready to guide younger children in appropriate conduct.

Other measures organizers can follow is decreasing the number (and spacing) of spectators and non-essential personnel, as well as making team size a bit smaller, if necessary. The use of face coverings may be appropriate; however, it may also be difficult to enforce on young children.

Additional measures promulgated by the CDC include the following:

Throughout any competition season (or through one competition, whichever is appropriate), the CDC recommends that event owners follow operational guidelines to ensure a healthy environment for anyone involved. This includes cleaning and disinfecting any equipment that players, spectators or officials use (if it is not their personal property and will not be shared with others) and creating a regular regimen of hand washing or use of sanitizer.

While much emphasis, given the change of season, has been given to outdoor sports, the CDC Considerations for Youth Sports also cover indoor events. In this case, the guidelines state, it is necessary to ensure ventilation systems or fans operate properly. Increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, for example by opening windows and doors. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk (e.g., risk of falling or triggering asthma symptoms) to players or others using the facility. In addition, organizers are encouraged to close shared spaces such as locker rooms, if possible; otherwise, it is suggested that events stagger use of such facilities, and clean and disinfect between use.

And, since COVID-19 is still an active problem, the CDC Considerations for Youth Sports also cover measures event owners can take, should an athlete, spectator or official become sick. These include notifying health officials, contact tracing and the isolation of those who have been around the sick person until such time as they can be declared non-infectious.

The document, which also contains a list of resources, will be reviewed and updated periodically.

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