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Delaware Division of Public Health OKs football and wrestling, but decision on high school sports remains with DIAA, Gov. John Carney says

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The state Division of Public Health has approved football for competition with moderations to help combat the spread of coronavirus. Last year, St. Elizabeth and Christiana kicked off the season at Caravel Academy. (Dialog file photo)

The state Division of Public Health has approved the high-risk sports of football, wrestling, ice hockey and competitive cheerleading for competition, potentially paving the way for high school sports to return this fall instead of in January.

Gov. John Carney issued the 26th modification to his state of emergency on Sept. 1. He followed that up with a press conference explaining what had to happen for high-risk sports to resume, and he was joined by Jamie Mack, the chief of health systems protection for the Division of Public Health.

Under the modification, athletes participating in high-risk sports must wear a face covering at all times unless rule changes prevent athletes from being in close proximity to one another. Carney, a graduate of Saint Mark’s High School, where he was a multiple-sport athlete, had doubts for a while that playing while wearing a face covering could be feasible.

“I couldn’t wrap my head around how you could wear a mask and play football,” he said.

The governor said he has watched youth sports take place all summer all over the state, and nearly everyone was following the guidelines. Now that football and those other sports have been cleared, it is up to the people leading them to ensure that the same happens for those sports.

“We’ve got to get everybody to take the guidance seriously. Mostly it’s about wearing a mask and keeping the social distance,” he said. “We can’t afford to go the wrong way.”

Mack said the guidelines apply to everyone from players and coaches to referees and spectators. Any school or league that wants to play will have to develop plans for their facilities regarding entering and exiting the venue, taking temperatures, distancing athletes and fans, and other issues regarding state guidelines. The Division of Public Health will not do that work for them. Site-specific plans will need approval from the division as well.

“We need to make sure that everybody is working with the same goals in mind,” he said. “We’re looking for the facilities, the tournaments, the communities to help us. That’s the type of engagement that we’re looking for.”

Mack said referees would likely need an alternative to whistles, since face coverings would make it difficult to use one. Spectators could remove coverings only if seated with members of the same household and if they are able to maintain distance from other fans. Each athlete’s gear would need to be kept apart from other people’s.

Washing and sanitizing hands would be mandated before and after games. High-touch surface areas would need to be cleaned every two hours, and each facility would have that done once a day unless they are not in use. Each site would need a covid coordinator.

No tournament could be held without Public Health’s approval.

Last month, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association approved a plan to resume high school athletics starting with winter sports in mid-December, followed by winter and spring sports. Each would play a condensed season. That decision remains in effect, although the DIAA board is scheduled to meet again Sept. 10. It is expected to set dates for its current plan, but it could reverse its decision and allow sports this fall. The agenda for the meeting will not be available until Thursday, according to DIAA executive director Donna Polk.

Carney said the ultimate decision on whether to hold high school sports this fall rests with the DIAA. He noted that the decision to move to a condensed schedule beginning in December was based on more than just health concerns.

“My guess is that they’ll take another look at it. I encourage them to take another look at it,” he said.

The governor said everyone wants athletes back on the field and students in the classroom. He acknowledged the importance of athletics to students’ physical and mental well-being.

“There’s a lot at stake for those folks,” he said.