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MHSAA releases ‘Guidance for Opening School Sports’ document, outlining a roadmap of ‘how’ high school sports can resume in Michigan

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, May 29, 2020, 1:48 pm

Even though no part of it can be implemented for at least another two weeks, the Michigan High School Athletic Association released its “Guidance for Opening School Sports” Friday afternoon, so schools will be prepared once the stay-at-home order is lifted.

Acknowledging that the ‘when’ portion is no sooner than June 13 — after the current “Safer-at-Home” order expires, barring it being lifted by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — the MHSAA’s roadmap follows the national recommendations set down by the National Federation of State High School Associations, with a three-step process of returning to the field of play.

Each of those three steps outlines the actions that will have to take place to protect athletes, including pre-workout or pregame screening of participants — athletes and coaches — for sickness, limitations on the number of participants involved in each step, and proper cleaning and hydration practices to further limit the possible transmission of COVID-19.

[To read the full document, CLICK HERE]

“The MHSAA and its Representative Council believe restarting school sports is essential to the physical and mental well-being of students, and the guidelines outlined for schools today provide the ‘How’ for schools to return to athletics when they’ve received the go-ahead from state and county health officials,” MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl said in a press release. “We are thankful for our state government, state education and health departments, our medical partners and the NFHS for their guidance these last few months, and we will continue to follow and pass on their recommendations as we prepare our schools to bring back this part of student life that’s been sorely missed.”  

For now, though, all that’s involved before Step 1 even begins are individual outdoor recreation — hiking, walking, running — in groups of fewer than 10 people, with social distancing guidelines followed.

“The concept is that students can continue to individually condition themselves (by walking, hiking, running), but there should be no organized, group activity by any person until at least June 13. We must all continue do our part to flatten the curve in hopes of increased activity over the coming weeks,” Uyl said. “Again, it is important to note that this document addresses ‘How’ schools can return to activity; the decision on ‘When’ schools can return to activity will be done under the direction of state government and health department officials. As government actions impact this timeline, the MHSAA will continue to update all involved.”

[RELATED]: Friday’s roadmap from MHSAA will give ‘how’ school athletics will return, but maybe not ‘when’: ‘We still can’t rush this’

The NFHS plan acknowledged that each state will have to find its own way to navigate local health guidelines, and the MHSAA has maintained close contact with the office of the governor, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services throughout the spring, as well as in the crafting of Friday’s document. 

‘When’ competition is allowed to return, however, depends entirely on the sport, and the likelihood of transmission of respiratory particles between competitors. 

Using a modified version of the recommendations from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Sports Medicine, the MHSAA plan categorizes sports into three different risk levels: higher, moderate and lower.

Higher risk includes sports with close, sustained contact between athletes with little to no barrier, and a high probability of respiratory particle transmission: wrestling, football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer.

Moderate risk includes sports with close, sustained contact between participants but with protective equipment that may mitigate the transmission of respiratory particles: basketball, volleyball*, baseball*, softball*, soccer, gymnastics*, bowling*, ice hockey, tennis*, swimming relays, pole vault*, high jump*, long jump*, girls lacrosse and 7-on-7 football.

(Asterisks indicate the sport could be considered lower risk, if equipment can be appropriately cleaned, and with the use of masks.)

Lower risk: Sports that can be conducted with social distancing rules in place: individual running events, shot put, discus, individual swimming events, golf, weightlifting, alpine skiing, sideline cheer, cross country (with staggered starts).

Step 1 is largely a return to conditioning, to offset the lack of competition since March. 

During Step 2, competition could resume in lower-risk sports, while practices could resume for moderate risk sports. 

In Step 3, moderate risk sports can resume, along with modified practices for higher-risk sports. Competition in higher-risk sports can resume until “after reassessing the epidemiology data, experiences in other states and government or health department directives.”

The MHSAA’s plan also has guidelines for cleaning of facilities and use of equipment.

For example, it notes that athletes may wear masks in competition, if so desired, shouldn’t share clothing, food, water bottles or towels, and should shower at home after the workout or competition. Hard surfaces within a facility should be sanitized before use, and hand sanitizer should be “plentiful and available to individuals,” along with the obligatory 20 seconds of hand washing.