The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released guidelines for a return to high school athletics Tuesday. The steps divide sports into three categories based on risk. They also recommend that practices and competition start in three stages or phases until a full return to action can be attained.
High school sports locally and Georgia High School Association (GHSA) activities were halted in mid-March before being completely shut down by the end of the month.
The GHSA is one of 51 member associations of the NFHS.
The NFHS report, called “Guidance for Opening Up High School Athletics and Activities,” was generated by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. While the recommendations are influential they are not mandatory for GHSA and other member organizations. The NFHS Guide is available here — https://nfhs.org/media/3812287/2020-nfhs-guidance-for-opening-up-high-school-athletics-and-activities-nfhs-smac-may-15_2020-final.pdf
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.
Football, wrestling, boys lacrosse, dance, and competitive cheer were identified as “higher risk sports that involve close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants.” Basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, and soccer fall in the moderate risk category of sports while sports that can be done with social distancing or individually with no sharing of equipment are labeled lower risk.
The NFHS return to activities recommendations include preseason conditioning and guidelines released by the White House last month. COVID-19 screening information, face coverings, group sizes, and showering and dressing specifications, and hydration. Guidelines for equipment sanitization is included along with information regarding the sharing of towels and clothes.
Other details covered in the report include transportation to and from contests, sideline/bench expectations, plus three categories or “Tiers” of individuals who should be in attendance at events.
“Until a cure, vaccine or very effective treatment is readily available, or so-called ‘herd immunity’ is confidently reached, social distancing and other preventive measures such as face covering will be a ‘new normal’ if workouts, practices and contests are to continue,” the NHSF stated in its Points of Emphasis. The NFHS also laid out various scenarios that each association must consider in an unpredictable return to games and contests. “Due to the near certainty of recurrent outbreaks this coming fall and winter in some locales, state associations must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two to three weeks while in-season,” the NFHS stated. “Testing regimens, specific guidelines regarding mass gatherings, and response to a student or team member testing positive for COVID-19 (including contact tracing) are all currently under review and guidance will come from CDC and state and local health departments,” the NFHS stated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently advises a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into contact with an infected person. Phase 1 of the NFHS recommendation limits workouts to “pods” of five to ten students with six-foot distance requirements both indoors and outdoors. Phase 2 continues the ten-person limits indoors but allows for up to 50 gathered outdoors for workouts while Phase 3 increases gathering sizes up to 50 individuals both indoors and outdoors.