State sets guidelines for resumption of higher risk sports

Herkimer County Public Health has issued guidelines that would enable higher-risk winter sports such as basketball, volleyball, wrestling and competitive cheerleading to begin if COVID-19 positivity rates decrease and remain below 3.5 percent.

The guidelines are in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement on Friday, Jan. 22 that schools may offer "higher-risk" winter sports starting on Feb. 1 if schools can meet New York State Department of Health (DOH) regulations. Under those regulations, the Herkimer County Public Health Department is charged with determining when local higher-risk sports can begin based on:

  • local rates of COVID-19 transmission or rate of positivity,
  • hospital capacity and rate of hospital admissions, and
  • other factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) or Herkimer County Public Health that impact COVID-19 control or mitigation.

“We are hopeful that our COVID cases continue to trend downward to a point where we can resume higher-risk sports in the near future,” said Central Valley Superintendent Jeremy Rich.

“Our local challenge is that Herkimer County COVID cases spiked following the holidays and are still higher than most other counties in New York.”

On Jan. 27, Herkimer County’s 14-day rolling average positivity rate was 8.6 percent, more than double the 3.0 percent threshold to begin a season.

Central Valley will focus on two priorities in its plan. First, is to bring back interscholastic sports, an important part of many students’ school experiences. Second, and most important, is to resume sports in a way that maintains the protocols that have made schools some of the safest places in our communities.

“We have worked hard to keep our buildings safe and we know that these sports come with higher risk,” said Mr. Rich.

“We need to do this right or we risk spreading COVID among our athletes, to other students and staff in our district, and to athletes and staff in the schools we compete against. The cost of a mistake would be high, so we’re going to adhere closely to the Herkimer County Public Health’s guidance.” 

The list of high-risk sports includes football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby, basketball, contact lacrosse, volleyball, martial arts, competitive cheer and group dance. Districts will make determinations about these sports seasons if the positivity rate reaches a point where these sports seasons could commence. 

The governor’s announcement does not affect spring sports such as baseball, softball, tennis, and track and field. It also does not change any ongoing lower- or moderate-risk winter sports seasons, such as bowling.

Garrett Olds, Central Valley Sports and Eligibility Coordinator, is meeting with other athletic directors and coordinators develop “Sports Reopening Plans” for Public Health review. Each plan will be sport-specific and will include:

  • Each school district’s Board of Education or non-public school’s Board of Directors (or other appropriate person/entity) must approve the district/school’s participation in each specific higher-risk sport.
  • Each school superintendent/school leader must oversee the creation of a sport-specific preparedness plan, to be approved by the district/school’s medical director.
  • Each parent/guardian must sign an informed consent.
  • Each student-athlete must have medical clearance from their healthcare provider.
  • Each parent/guardian, student-athlete, and school official must agree to fully cooperate with case investigations and contact elicitation and to adhere to isolation and quarantine orders.
  • Each district/school must establish a confidential phone number and email address to allow student-athletes, parents, or others to report concerns. 

For specifics, please refer to Herkimer County Public Health’s Resumption of High Risk Sports document.