The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released a return-to-activity guidance document to its 51 member state high school associations, including the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), for each to consider when planning how to reopen high school athletics and other activity programs.
“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,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, in a statement released last week. “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 document was fashioned by the NFHS Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC). Composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives, the committee described a possible staged approach to reopening high school sports and other activities, similar to the White House’s phased reopening strategy, for member schools to consider.
The committee suggested that state high school associations consult with their state and local health departments when determining the appropriate dates for implementing such a phased-in approach.
The SMAC guidance document also suggested a possible breakdown for higher risk, moderate risk and lower risk sports. The basis of the breakdown reflected potential exposure of respiratory droplets during the activity; rating sports like football and wrestling as being high risk while rating sports like individual running events and golf as being low risk.
The document further laid out a possible progression to 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.
The NFHS SMAC stressed that the guidance document was intended to supply ideas for state associations to consider with their respective sports medicine committees and state health departments in designing return-to-activity plans that would be in accordance with state and local restrictions.
“It is important to be clear that this is guidance for individual states to consider as they return to activities this fall,” Niehoff stated. “States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments.”
On Thursday, May 21, the GHSA Board of Trustees discussed the document sent out by the NFHS SMAC during an online meeting.
Based on the guidance in the document, GHSA executive director Dr. Robin Hines announced that, “it will open up conditioning for its member schools on June 8, 2020.”
“The plan is restrictive and provides for conditioning only,” a statement from Hines to GHSA member schools read. “As the data related to COVID-19 continues to improve, restrictions may be reduced after input from our health care professionals ad guidance from our Governor.”
Originally, the GHSA was pushing for a June 1 start date, but discussion during the meeting pushed that back by a week.
When conditioning activities do open back up on June 8, the GHSA issued some recommendations and restrictions. Those included that all summer workouts are voluntary, that school and school systems may be more restrictive than the GHSA but not less restrictive, that workouts are for conditioning only with no balls or sports specific equipment, that member school should prepare an Infectious Disease Prevention Plan prior to staff and athletes returning to conditioning, that staff and athletes are screened prior to each workout, that particular signage be utilized on site of workouts, that groups be limited to 20 or less (including coaches) per sport at any given time, that there be no use of locker room or shower facilities, that weight equipment should be cleansed prior to each workout and sanitized between use by each student, that hand sanitizer should be readily available and plentiful, that each student should have their own personal water bottle and that water fountains should not be used, that only side spots used in weight training with safety bars being preferred, that social distancing should be adhered to always and that masks or face coverings are recommended for the weight room, that at least 15 minutes should be scheduled between groups to allow for disinfecting the facility, that no visitors are allowed at the conditioning sessions and, lastly, that groups should be the same individuals (including coaches) for each session to limit risk of exposure and that coaches and athletes may not change groups for the duration of the guidance.
Hines stressed that this process will take each member of it member schools’ staff in order to make this plan work and protect the health and safety of its student athletes and coaches.
“There has never been a more critical time for athletic departments, school administration and school system level administrators to work together,” Hines said.