Because the understanding of COVID-19 and its impact on sports has evolved over the past year, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced Tuesday it would no longer be classifying sports into three risk categories.
Previously, the NFHS’ Sports Medicine Advisory Committee determined the risk of COVID-19 by sport, classifying them individually as low, medium or high risk.
Those classifications were used by states, their departments of health and local communities as guidance on how to safely conduct high school sports. The original classifications were first implemented in May 2020.
“Knowledge of the virus that causes COVID-19 has evolved, we have increasingly recognized that transmission depends upon multiple factors that cannot be easily accounted for by simply dividing sports into three distinct categories of risk,” the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee said.
Armed with new evidence, the NFHS now suggests state associations consider five factors in determining the potential risks of playing individual sports.
The first four factors are: That COVID-19 rates of participants in sports are directly proportional to prevailing community disease rates; that participants in non-contact sports show lower rates of COVID-19 than contact sports; that outdoor sports show lower rates of spread than indoor sports; that face masks worn for indoor sports show comparable spread rates as found in playing outdoors.
Finally, the NFHS says “the great majority of sports-related spread of COVID-19 does not appear to occur during sports participation, but from social contact” found from activities surrounding sports teams.
It emphasizes continued social distancing, mask use, self-quarantine and proper hygiene for participants. “Maximizing efforts to prevent this type of spread remains paramount,” the NFHS said.
It lines up with what CIAC reported from contact tracing during the fall season.
The new guidelines appears to give states and their communities significantly more leeway in determining how to play high school sports curing the pandemic.
The Connecticut Dept. of Health has so far prohibited the playing of any sports that were previously deemed “high risk,” unless those sports could dramatically change how they operate.
Because of those classifications, tackle football was eliminated in favor of 7-on-7 this fall. Wrestling, competitive cheerleading and indoor track have similarly been prohibited this winter. The DPH has also prohibited the playing of “high risk” sports in Connecticut until at least March 28.
For the spring, the boys lacrosse season was also in doubt as a “high risk” sport. Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, said the CIAC and other state associations had been lobbying the NFHS to reconsider.
Now, with the NFHS’ new guidelines, Lungarini said the CIAC will begin working with other state agencies, including the Dept. of Health, Department of Economic and Community Development and Gov. Ned Lamont’s office to determine how to proceed.
“The CIAC is in receipt of NFHS’s latest guidance and will meet with our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to review its revisions,” he wrote via email.
“The CIAC has also requested a meeting with DPH, DECD, and the Governor’s office to review and discuss the NFHS’s updated guidance as part of our continued collaboration focused on providing safe sport experiences for CT athletes.”
The NFHS sports medical committee also lists three other resources, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“We applaud the great work of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee throughout the past year to provide state associations and high schools with well-considered information during the pandemic,” said NFHS executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff, formerly of CIAC. “We appreciate the committee’s most recent attempts to reassess how student-athletes can participate in sports moving forward.
“While we have to be concerned about transmission of the virus first and foremost, we also must consider the mental health of students who have been unable to play sports thus far this year.”