Pritzker: Practices but no games for sports like football, given COVID-19 threat

  • Barb Raver, a nurse with the Illinois Department of Public Health, passes out information and asking questions for those waiting for a COVID-19 test Friday at Rolling Meadows High School.

      Barb Raver, a nurse with the Illinois Department of Public Health, passes out information and asking questions for those waiting for a COVID-19 test Friday at Rolling Meadows High School. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/29/2020 10:17 PM

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced restrictions to recreational sports that would suspend activities like football, basketball, soccer and volleyball competitive matches in the coming months to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"This is a situation where the toughest choice is also the safest," Pritzker said Wednesday in Chicago. He also warned, "Right now, things are not headed in the right direction" regarding positive test trends for the virus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The restrictions came as 1,393 new COVID-19 cases were reported and 18 new deaths Wednesday.

The sports restrictions go into effect Aug. 15 and apply to all youth and adult recreational sports, including schools, recreational leagues and park district programs.

As a result, the Illinois High School Association is shifting football, girls volleyball and boys soccer seasons to the spring with the hope that the pandemic's grip will have lessened by 2021.

"I think most people realized you would not have a contact sport like football taking place now," Barrington High School Athletic Director Mike Obuszt said. "It (spring football) will be something different happening, but I like it. Rather than just say, 'We are canceling football this year,' they found a spot in the calendar where they can give it a try."

To reduce exposure to the virus, new state guidelines categorize sports into three risk levels, lower, medium, or higher, based on the frequency and closeness of contact between athletes, officials said.

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Under the updated rules, higher-risk sports like football, competitive cheer, hockey, lacrosse and wrestling are restricted to no-contact practices and training activities but no games.

Medium-risk sports like basketball, soccer and volleyball are allowed to hold intra-team scrimmages provided minors receive parental permission, but no competitive play. No-contact practices and training are allowed.

Lower-risk sports including baseball, cross country, gymnastics, golf, softball, swimming, and track and field can participate in intra-conference, intra-EMS-region and intra-league play, and state or league championships with safety measures.

To be considered lower-risk, measures like baseball players spacing 6 feet apart and equipment being cleaned after each gymnast uses it must be implemented.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The number of athletes, coaches and referees also is limited to 50 or less, and everyone involved will need to wear face masks except for athletes playing outside.

"When multibillion-dollar sports leagues with multimillion-dollar athletes are struggling to protect their players, it's obvious there won't be enough protections for kids on our school playing fields," Pritzker said.

He also referenced "dozens of students and parents (who) tested positive in a Lake Zurich outbreak that was worsened by sports camps."

Illinois has now reported 175,124 COVID-19 cases statewide with 7,462 deaths. Wednesday's daily case count is lower than the weekly average of 1,403.

The COVID-19 test positivity rate using a seven-day average is 3.8% and has remained the same since Monday. The daily positivity rate is 3.65% based on 38,137 new tests.

The number of Illinoisans hospitalized for COVID-19 is 1,491, higher than the seven-day average of 1,438, or the previous seven-day average (July 15 to 21) of 1,416.

Pritzker warned there are "danger signs" that could mean ramping up restrictions in regions seeing higher positivity rates.

The state is divided into 11 regions being monitored for COVID-19 conditions and the Metro East region near St. Louis measured a 7.8% positivity rate as of Wednesday, the IDPH said. An 8% positivity rate for three days can trigger restrictions.

"Folks, this is serious," Pritzker said. During a stay-at-home order this spring "we hunkered down and did the right thing, but now there are danger signs," he said. "It's time to defend our progress."

Six regions including some suburban counties are showing a COVID-19 test positivity rate above 5% that's increasing, he noted. Three days of an 8% rate or higher can trigger restrictions like halting indoor dining.

In Region 10/suburban Cook, the seven-day average positivity 5.5% as of Monday. In Region 9/Lake and McHenry, it was 5.2%. And in Region 7/Will and Kankakee, it was 6.2%.

"We've made progress in Illinois but we've also seen success can be fleeting," Pritzker said. "If things don't change, a reversal is where we're headed."

The IHSA's decision left Cary-Grove High School girls volleyball coach Patty Langanis "really relieved. My athletes were concerned they would lose the season or the IHSA might try to get a shortened season in the fall that would end up being canceled anyway."

Obuszt said, "I think it's a realistic schedule and obviously things can change by the day, as we've seen the last couple months. But I do like the fact we can get some of the non-contact sports having the opportunity to meet with their teammates and coaches. It's those relationships that are the most important thing about high school athletics than the actual contests."

• Daily Herald High School Sports Editor John Radtke and reporter John Lemon contributed to this story.

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