Governor Wolf Provides New Guidelines For Reopening Sports Teams

Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health released new guidelines Wednesday for sports teams resuming in-person activities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidance, which applies to professional, collegiate, recreational sports, and K-12 school athletics, provides procedures organizations must follow to limit the spread of the virus as they resume operations.

“Pennsylvania has some of the best athletes and teams in the country and they can now begin to safely return to organized sports,” Wolf said Wednesday. “This guidance balances keeping student-athletes safe from COVID-19 while allowing them to participate in an important part of their lives…As students and teammates get ready to train and compete, it’s important that they follow precautions to protect each other and their community from the risk of COVID-19.”

Under Wolf’s guidelines, college programs within “yellow” or “green” counties may resume in-person activities while following guidance issued by the Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and NCAA. College programs also need to write and publish formal health and safety plans for resuming workouts.

Yellow counties may hold events with 25 or fewer participants, while green can go up to 250. In the yellow phase, no fans or spectators will be allowed in or directly outside venues. However, in the green phase, occupancies will be limited to 50% and face masks should be worn at all times.

Centre County moved into the green phase a few weeks ago and will likely remain there as coronavirus cases remain relatively low in the region. To date, 158 positive cases have been reported in the county.

According to the guidelines, all attendees, except for athletes and coaching staffs, need to continue practicing social distancing when arriving, attending, and departing facilities.

All sporting events, including collegiate, must also adhere to the following miscellaneous guidelines. Most notably, student-athletes will receive temperature checks prior to games and practices and fans and athletes won’t be able to high five or fist bump. Sad!

  • Coaches and league officials must review and consider the CDC guidance on consideration for youth sports to modify practices and games to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus. This includes focusing on individual skill building versus competition and limiting contact in close contact sports.
  • The community, league, or team must designate a primary point of contact for all questions related to COVID-19, and all parents, athletes, officials, and coaches must be provided the person’s contact information.
  • The community, league, or team must develop a plan of action in the event an athlete, coach, or official falls ill, make the plan publicly available, and explain it to the entire sports community.
  • The community, league, or team must educate all athletes, staff and families about the symptoms of COVID-19 and when to stay home. Athletes also should be educated on proper handwashing and sanitizing.
  • Coaching staff and other adult personnel should wear face coverings (masks or face shields) at all times, unless doing so jeopardizes their health.
  • Coaches and athletes must maintain appropriate social distancing at all times possible, including in the field of play, locker rooms, sidelines, dugouts, benches, and workout areas. During downtime, athletes and coaches should not congregate.
  • Coaches and athletic staff must screen and monitor athletes for symptoms prior to and during games and practices. If individuals participating in sporting activities show symptoms, have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, or are sick, they must be sent home.
  • All athletes, coaches, and officials must bring their own water and drinks to team activities. Team water coolers for sharing through disposable cups are not allowed. Fixed water fountains should not be used.
  • Activities that increase the risk of exposure to saliva must not be allowed including chewing gum, spitting, licking fingers, and eating sunflower seeds.
  • Avoid shaking hands, fist bumps, or high fives before, during or after games and practices. Limit unnecessary physical contact with teammates, other athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators.
  • Whenever possible, equipment and other personal items should be separated and not shared. If equipment must be shared, all equipment should be properly disinfected between users.
  • If multiple games are to be held at the same facility, adequate time shall be scheduled between contests to allow for facilities to be cleaned and disinfected and to minimize interaction between athletes. Sports complexes with multiple fields may operate simultaneous games or practices on fields within a complex only if social distancing can be maintained.  Each individual game or practice at a complex must adhere to the gathering occupancy limits (25 in yellow, 250 in green), and the facility as a whole may not exceed 50% of total occupancy otherwise permitted by law.
  • Concession stands or other food must adhere to the Guidance for Businesses in the Restaurant Industry.

Similar to the Department of Education’s plans for reopening universities, these guidelines are merely preliminary and will likely be updated as more information becomes available. They’ll also likely change for fall and winter sports.

Penn State began its phased return to campus Monday when 75 football student-athletes arrived for voluntary workouts. In the coming weeks and months, more athletes will begin filing in.

Penn State Athletics did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the new guidelines.

We’ll update this post with more information as it becomes available.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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