The VHSL releases some guidance covering the next phase of a return to sports
by Andy Hilton, recruit757
Let me state this first: this is not a full-fledged plan to get back to normal.
On Friday afternoon, the VHSL released guidelines for returning to sports and activities in Virginia’s phase two.
“These VHSL guidelines are recommended for use as school divisions develop their own specific requirements for the Phase II COVID Mitigation Health Plans for Public Schools,” said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “SMAC worked closely with VDH to ensure that these recommended guidelines will offer guidance to local school divisions and superintendents reopening plans. Our SMAC committee of leading health experts has put together an invaluable tool to assist our school divisions in developing those plans.”
There’s a lot to digest here. We’ll cover the high points.
Football falls under the category of “higher infection risk activities”. The phase two guidance for Football is “Conditioning and individual drills. A player should not participate
in drills with a football 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.
Protective equipment prohibited.
Basketball is considered a moderate infection risk activity. The VHSL calls for “Conditioning, individual ball skill drills, no contact or sharing of balls. A player may shoot with a ball(s), but a team should not practice/pass a basketball among the team where multiple players touch the same ball.”
Here’s how the VHSL lays out the primary pieces of their guidance:
This document is intended to provide guidance for schools to consider with their stakeholders in designing return-to-activity protocols in accordance with state and county restrictions. It allows for a coordinated reopening following the initial stay at home orders and may also be used if conditions dictate the need for increased restrictions in the future.
The VHSL believes it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of students to return to physical activity and athletic competition. The VHSL recognizes that all Virginia students may be unable to return to – and sustain – athletic activity at the same time across the state. There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed over the next 9 to 12 months.
While recognizing that county-by-county reopening may lead to inequities, the VHSL advocates for returning students to school-based athletics and activities as directed by state and local guidelines
Prior to allowing use of facilities, schools should review facility use agreements, especially in the areas of sanitation requirements and liability.
Points of Emphasis
Limited testing availability, lack of resources for contact tracing, and expanding knowledge of COVID-19 transmission could all result in significant changes to this guidance. The VHSL will disseminate more information as it becomes available.
Administrators and coaches must emphasize the need for all coaches and participants who have signs or symptoms of illness to stay home when ill to decrease risk of viral transmission.
Currently, the 2019-20 VHSL Physical Form expires on June 30, 2020. Therefore, any student-athlete must obtain a physical prior to any athletic participation moving forward dated after May 1, 2020. PPE’s are an important way to screen student-athletes for conditions that may expose them to risk of injury, illness, or death due to athletic activity. The VHSL requires annual pre-participation exams prior to any athletic activity.
Current pre-season conditioning and acclimatization models assume that athletes have deconditioned during the stay at home orders. The current pandemic may result in students being deconditioned for several months. The intensity and duration of training should be moderated upon return. The NFHS is currently involved with several organizations in developing consensus guidelines for the resumption of workouts and practices.
Due to the possibility of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months, schools must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two or more weeks while inseason. Development of policies is recommended regarding practice and/or competition during temporary school closures, the cancellation of contests during the regular season, and parameters for the cancellation or premature ending to postseason events/competitions.
Phases are in accordance with guidelines published by the Commonwealth of Virginia and are subject to change. Please note that counties must meet “gating” criteria to establish Phase One and that further criteria must be met to advance from one phase to the next. These criteria will be determined by the Governor’s Office and/or VDH/VDOE and should be strictly followed.
Athletic Training Services
Given the coming financial crisis at the state and local levels, the NFHS SMAC fears that athletic trainer positions will be seen as a “luxury” and those positions will be at risk during the budgeting process. It is also assumed that athletic trainers supplied to high schools by hospitals and sports medicine clinics are also at risk as many medical clinics and hospitals have suffered severe revenue loss during the pandemic.
Athletic trainers in high schools are positioned to play a vital role as sports return following this pandemic. As health-care professionals, they can take lead roles in developing and implementing infection control policy throughout the school. Whenever needed, state associations and their SMACs should promote the importance of athletic trainers in high schools and their role in injury evaluation, treatment and risk minimization as well as being a vital component of any return-to-school and athletics plan.
1. Physical and mental well-being of students.
2. Health and safety of all involved in sports: athletes, coaches, sports medicine, volunteers, school officials. Individuals who are at higher risk for severe disease should take extra
precautions or sometimes choose not to participate. This includes individuals who: have chronic lung disease, moderate or severe asthma, serious heart conditions,
immunocompromised or take immune-suppressant medication, severely obese, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or dialysis, or those over 65 years. CDC Guidelines can be found here.
3. There is a near certainty of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months.
4. Phases 1, 2, and 3 are based on disease prevalence and community transmission (VHSL Phases match Commonwealth phases). It is possible that a school may move up or down the
Phase level. This movement, in either direction, will be dependent upon disease prevalence, community transmission, and guidance from local/state public health officials.
5. Permitted activities may fluctuate based on which Phase the school is in. Permitted activities could include: skill-building drills at home, team practice, within-team competition,
competition with teams from a specific area, or full competition from different areas.
6. Returning to activities should also take into account that most of the student-athletes will be deconditioned. They will require a prolonged acclimatization and progression of
intensity of activities. This especially applies to student-athletes with sickle cell trait.
The full outline of VHSL guidance can be seen here.
– Andy Hilton