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'Sports bring people together and when people are together, the virus can transmit' | Health board keeps recommendation of delaying fall sports

On Aug. 6, the board voted to recommend schools begin the year virtually, and for fall sports to be delayed until Oct. 1. The board said COVID-19 is still prevalent.

TOLEDO, Ohio — The Lucas County Regional Board of Health held a special meeting Thursday to discuss a recommendation for sports for Lucas County schools and landed the same place they did during their Aug. 6 meeting - they again recommend that fall sports be delayed until Oct. 1. 

On Aug. 6, the Lucas County health board voted to recommend schools begin the year virtually, and for fall sports to be delayed until Oct. 1, as community spread of COVID-19 is still prevalent in the county. 

On Thursday, Lucas County remained on the Level 3 Red Alert of the Ohio Public Health Advisory System map, meaning that there is the possibility of a high level of exposure to the coronavirus in the county, and under that level, residents are urged to limit activities as much as possible. 

Dr. Johnathan Ross opened Thursday's special meeting to address the issue of high school sports and to give the board's advice to schools about sports participation. 

"Sadly, there is no totally safe group participatory sport. We know we have the disease in the community. ... We need to recognize that cold, hard fact. I hate this virus. I hate what it is doing to our first responders, our medical colleagues. The fact is we need to give our best advice on how to avoid this and the spread into our community," he said.

"The risks related to participatory sports are related to the number of participants, whether it's indoors or outdoors, individual or group shared equipment, and the ability to wear a mask. Sports bring people together and when people are together, the virus can transmit." 

The board landed on what member Ted Kaczorowski called a "cautious but prudent route," and left the recommendation as it is: no high school sports until at least Oct. 1. 

"This is a horrible situation. I feel for everybody who is trying to get kids back in school. But we haven't seen enough change for me to feel comfortable getting kids back into sports," board member Susan Postal said. 

The recommendation is just that - a recommendation - and the board acknowledged that schools will ultimately make their own decisions. 

Ross cited a list the National Federation of State High School Association created that shows 25 sports categorized as high risk, moderate risk, and low risk, as far as the level of contact athletes experience. All contact sports are high-risk, then there's a middle ground of moderate-risk sports such as baseball, basketball, field hockey, lacrosse (girls), gymnastics, ice hockey, soccer, softball, swimming relays, tennis (using a common ball) and running events. Some low-risk sports listed are cross country (especially with staggered starts, golf, other running events if the participants can be separated, individual swimming, and weightlifting with cleaned equipment. 

"There are a lot of sports with a wide range of high risk to low risk. Our advice would be to have our high school students participate in only low-risk sports," Ross said. "All of these sports, especially if surrounded by spectators and multiple coaches, have a risk of transmission."

Ross also cited the potential for COVID-19 to create a long-term consequence of heart problems in athletes as well. He was referring to a rare inflammation of the heart called myocarditis has been discovered in at least 5 Big Ten athletes and among several others in other conferences.

RELATED: Report: Heart condition possibly linked to COVID-19 driving concerns about college sports

Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski said that while Lucas County is seeing a decrease in daily COVID-19 numbers, the county is still in the red for the map, but is now No. 5 in cases ranked by highest occurrence. 

Zgodzinski said he met Monday with school superintendents and athletics directors and will continue to meet with them weekly. The recommendations the superintendents and ADs sought were to have noncontact sports proceed and to allow all contact sports to practice while waiting for any further state directive to come. Fall to spring sports cannot be flipped at this point, Zgodzinski said the ADs told him, because of timing. That is off the table he said. 

"There is no zero here. There is a risk to any sport," including even golf and cross country, Zgodzinski said. "There is no sport with zero possibility of contracting COVID or exposing someone to COVID."

"I do caution all of us, as we embark on any additional recommendation, we are still a red county," he said. The OHSAA is making recommendations for the whole state, and Zgodzinski said Lucas County has its own, separate concerns from the whole state.

Contact sports is going to be an "uphill battle," he said. He said that he thought the recommendation of delaying is a "sound one."

RELATED: Lucas Co. Regional Board of Health recommends schools start virtually; some districts quickly change course - see which ones

RELATED: TPS postpones fall sports until Oct. 1

On July 30, Toledo Public Schools decided to begin the school year online only and postpone fall sports until Oct. 1, regardless of the color status the district is operating under. The district planned to come to a decision on winter sports on Oct. 1.

Dr. Romules Durant, superintendent of TPS, did not rule out the possibility of moving fall sports to the spring at that time. 

"I think it's a great opportunity at the end of the day," said Durant. "If for whatever reason we can't have it in the fall, it's not the end because we're still working to make sure it happens. Because we host our own City League, we have the ability to hold a 10-game schedule along with a championship."

Several other area schools plan to operate under Ohio High School Athletic Association guidelines. 

OHSAA GUIDELINES AS OF AUG. 12

  • Non-contact sport practices and competitive play are permitted
  • Contact sport practices and intra-team scrimmages are permitted
  • Contact sport competitive play/scrimmages not permitted 
  • Should contact sports be approved for school vs. school competition, the OHSAA will set COVID-19-related requirements for schools to follow for competitions. The OHSAA will also govern and issue consequences for any potential violations of the requirements as prescribed in OHSAA Bylaw 11 penalties.

OHSAA HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL 6-GAME SEASON

On Aug. 7, the OHSAA announced that for high school football, it will be moving to a six-game regular season, which is set to begin on Aug. 24. Additionally, all schools will be eligible to participate in this year's postseason, which will begin on Oct. 9, with the State Finals to be held no later than Saturday, Nov. 21.

The OHSAA said that it arrived at its adjusted schedule after receiving a recommendation from the governor's office to end the season early. Schools have been permitted to keep their first six previously scheduled games, however, all regular-season football contracts are now voidable by either school, especially as conference consider redoing their league schedules.