Governor Cuomo announced last week that high risk athletics may commence based on current local health factors and school districts’ abilities to meet specific requirements set by local departments of health. While the New York State Department of Health set minimum requirements for participation in high-risk athletics, local departments of health, schools, or other organizations may establish further guidelines in order to protect the health and safety of their communities.
Since the announcement, the 24 school districts of Section X have carefully and thoughtfully assessed the situation. The superintendents, FEH and SLL BOCES leaders, and the Director of Section X have met multiple times, and have had multiple conversations with public health officials in Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties. The 24 athletic directors have received regular updates from Section X and a task force of athletic directors dedicated to evaluating the winter sports season has met.
The school districts comprising Section X have worked collaboratively with our partners in Public Health to evaluate current health metrics, including the recent spike in cases and significant increase in hospitalization rates in both counties. At the present time, our region is experiencing high positivity rates and a decline in hospital capacity. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of school staff and students placed in mandatory quarantine over the past few weeks, which in many cases has affected districts’ ability to hold in-person learning.
St. Lawrence County Public Health Director Dana McGuire, stated “contact sports increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. If schools and other organizations, athletes, and their parents/guardians choose to resume higher risk sports, they must do so in a safe manner and give considerable thought to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
New York State DOH as well as Franklin and St. Lawrence County Departments of Public Health have outlined requirements schools must meet in order to safely hold high-risk sports this winter. Among those requirements are the development of a thorough safety plan, securing separate buses for each team, providing staff to assist in contact tracing procedures, and recommendations for a weekly testing protocol.
At this time, based on the present health crisis in Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties, and due to concerns about logistics necessary to make these programs safe and successful, Section X school districts are not ready to commence high risk winter sports. The Section X school districts are committed to an ongoing discussion regarding the evolving health and safety conditions and their ability to meet Public Health guidelines. In the interim, school districts will continue to meet and work on required plans so that when feasible, a return to high-risk athletics will be as safe as possible.
According to Section X Director Carl Normandin, “the school districts that compromise Section X remain fully committed and continue to work closely with its school leaders and local Departments of Health experts. Moving forward, the focus will be on a sport-by-sport basis to complete the required preparedness plans as outlined in the DOH protocols and the NYSED guidance documents to ensure a safe practice and competition environment. The districts and Section X task force will continue to meet to explore various models for potentially conducting an abbreviated winter, fall II and spring sports season once the health and safety factors indicate that it is safe to do so.”