The state Department of Public Health has responded to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's latest round of guidance on how to play fall sports this season Monday, with a particular focus on the question of whether there is a way to safely play high school football amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The CIAC's latest fall sports guidance, which was presented to DPH at a meeting Friday, included plans for football players to wear cloth masks during play. The CIAC also proposed the use of plastic face shields that attach to the helmet. These measures would be taken along with efforts to social distance in the team box, no sharing of personal apparel and equipment, and increased cleaning and sanitization of the ball.
As part of the effort to have a fall sports season, sports have been categorized as high risk, moderate risk, or low risk for the spread of the coronavirus.
DPH is still recommending moderate or low-risk versions of sports this fall, and while it did not definitively recommend not to play football, officials said it was unclear whether the CIAC's proposed changes regarding face masks or face shields were safe during play or if they would actually address and reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.
DPH pushed for further discussion with the CIAC's existing Sports Medicine Committee to ensure safety, saying that based on the existing information they had it was not clear if the proposed strategies would make full contact football a moderate risk sports instead of high risk, as it was originally classified.
DPH had originally suggested pushing football to the spring, but the CIAC has said it will not make that move.
The CIAC plan also recommended masks for volleyball players, a suggestion DPH also said should be examined by the Sports Medicine Committee, which previously recommended against face coverings during "vigorous physical activity," according to DPH.
In response to DPH's letter Monday, the CIAC released a statement:
"The CIAC has received DPH’s review of the mitigating strategies presented at last Friday’s meeting. The letter from DPH has been forwarded to the CIAC Board of Control voting members. The CIAC thanks DPH for its detailed response and guidance. The CIAC Board of Control will convene in the next few days and an update will provided after that meeting."
The issue of how to safely play fall sports, particularly contact sports like football, has come to a head as students head back to school. Last week, more than 1,000 high school athletes and their supporters rallied on the steps of the State Capitol to protest CIAC’s decision to cancel full-contact football for the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CIAC had already given a green light for fall sports conditioning practices to begin in cohorts of 10. Officials had hoped that if the COVID-19 metrics in the state remain low, full practices can begin in September, followed by scrimmages, followed by competition in October.
There are specific mitigation strategies and changes outlined for different sports. For more information, visit the CIAC website.