BOSTON (SHNS) – Football, competitive cheerleading, basketball, ice hockey, and wrestling are among the activities assigned the highest risk level in new state guidance on youth and adult amateur sports, falling into a category where games, matches and competitive practices will only be allowed with new modifications in place.
The guidance, from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, was posted online Thursday and takes effect Monday.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this guidance applies to K-12 school and other youth sports activities,” the document says.
Aimed at facility operators and organizers of youth and adult sports and activities, the guidance categorizes sports into three levels of COVID-19 transmission risk, based on the amount of close contact required or expected, with different limitations for each.
Facility operators and activity organizers “must require facial coverings to be worn by all participants,” except when distancing of six feet or more between participants is possible, for individuals who cannot wear a mask because of a disability or medical condition, or during “high intensity aerobic or anerobic activities, swimming, water polo, water aerobics or other sports where individuals are in the water,” the guidance says.
“Some sports by their nature involve intense aerobic activity throughout play. For these sports, it is required that players use facial coverings when possible, taking frequent breaks when they are out of proximity to other players using caution to avoid touching the front or inside of the face covering by using the ties or ear loops to remove and replace,” the guidance says. “For example, soccer players should have facial coverings with them at all times, and where possible play with the facial covering on, removing it for long runs down the field, for plays without close contact, and in the goal; baseball/softball batters must wear facial coverings while at bat; lacrosse or hockey players participating in face-offs must wear facial coverings.”
The guidance allows lower-risk activities, like tennis, golf, gymnastics and cross country, to hold individual or socially distanced group activities, competitive practices, competitions and outdoor tournaments. Individual crew, sailing and biking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, surfing, pickleball, motor sports and no-contact exercise classes are also listed as examples in the “lower-risk” category.
For the other two risk levels, competitive practices and competitions are only allowed with modifications in place. Players can participate in individual or distanced activities like non-contact workouts, aerobic conditioning and drills the way the sport is traditionally played.
Sports including baseball and softball, team swimming, volleyball, soccer, fencing and field hockey are deemed moderate risk, as are running clubs and dance classes.
The higher-risk category includes football, basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey, wrestling, boxing, martial arts, rugby, pair figure skating and ultimate Frisbee.
The guidance lists “lacrosse” as higher-risk and “girls’ lacrosse” as moderate risk.
The modifications for games and competitive practices for higher- and moderate-risk sports included staggered starts for races; elimination of deliberate contact like tackling and body-checking; and changes to or elimination of intermittent contact like scrums. Some intermittent contact, like face-offs, could take place if each player involved wears a mask.
“Modifications should strive to keep participants 6 feet apart for the majority of play and must eliminate all deliberate contact,” the guidance says.
Sports and activities that cannot implement such modifications to limit contact or increase distancing would not be able to hold matches, meets or games, according to the guidance, but could still be able to practice under certain circumstances.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association said in a statement posted to Twitter that it was aware of the updated state guidance and was awaiting “accompanying guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.”
The MIAA’s board plans to convene within three business days of the release of DESE guidelines.