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Winter high school sports start, with some precautions

While Michigan high schools were able to resume winter sports Monday after seeing the 2020 season shut down by the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, the look definitely is different.

Under guidance from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, athletes are required to wear masks during practices and competition. If masks cannot be worn, participants must be regularly tested for COVID-19.

“Safety protocols like wearing masks and testing will help keep kids, coaches and families safe and allow our schools to remain open for in-person instruction,” said Elizabeth Hertel, MDHHS director.

Participants also must stay 6 feet apart when not actively engaged in play, again while wearing face masks.

It is recommended spectators be limited to two per athlete. Spectators are allowed with up to 250 people in stadiums that seat less than 10,000 and up 500 people at venues that seat more than 10,000 people.

“As a parent and former student-athlete myself, I get how important athletics are to our children’s physical and mental health,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “However, parents and athletes need to understand the risk involved with contact sports if they choose to participate. Sports that require frequent closeness between players make it more difficult to prevent virus transmission even when mitigation measures are in place, including masks. Even when not required, we urge teams to implement a testing program to protect athletes, coaches and their families.”

Additional recommendations from the MDHHS to adjust sports to these pandemic times include:

— Wash hands frequently and cover coughs and sneezes;

— Do not share items that are difficult to clean, sanitize or disinfect. Use separate towels, clothing or other items used to wipe faces or hands.;

— Individuals should use their own gear/equipment and minimize sharing equipment;

— Individuals are encouraged to provide their own food, drinks and/or water.;

— If a mask is removed during a break, participants must remain at least 6 feet apart from others.;

— Refrain from pre- or post-event handshakes, hugs, fist bumps, high fives or contact celebrations;

— Ensure enough time between events or practices to allow for proper cleaning and disinfection of the facilities and shared equipment;

— Prioritize outdoor, as opposed to indoor, practice and play as much as possible;

— If playing inside, ensure ventilation systems or fans operate properly. Increase circulation of outdoor air when possible, for example by opening windows and doors;

— Areas with poor ventilation — weight rooms, small spaces — where social distancing cannot be implemented should be avoided.;

— In practices, prioritize noncontact activity, such as conditioning and drills, where social distancing can be maintained. Small groups may help reduce the risk of teamwide COVID-19 outbreaks as they allow for greater social distancing, easier contact tracing and reducing the number of athletes who need to be quarantined;

— Minimize travel to other communities and regions for practices and competition;

— Limit the use of carpools, buses or other shared transportation between persons outside the same household. When riding in an automobile to a sports event, encourage players to ride to the sports event with persons living in their same household, and always wear a mask if traveling with persons outside the same household.

Additional information is available at Michigan.gov/sportsCOVIDinfo.

Obviously, in the midst of a Michigan winter several of these recommendations would be difficult, such as practicing outdoors or opening windows and doors.

But area high schools likely will do what’s needed to let their students play. It appears to have worked in neighboring Wisconsin, which is reaching tournament time. Hopefully Michigan’s athletes will get their chance to compete as well, even with the coronavirus challenges.

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