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COVID-19 impact

Maine Principals' Association sets initial guidelines for school athletics

Governing body, coaches, student-athletes hope sports can be safely played this summer and fall
By Mark Haskell | Jun 30, 2020
Artwork by: Holly Vanorse Spicer The Maine Principals' Association has put safety guidelines in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) so fall sports, including possibly traditional activities such as field hockey, golf, football, soccer, cross country and mountain biking, can get back into competition.

Augusta — The Maine Principals’ Association officially unveiled its summer guidelines for high school athletics as the organization proactively, but cautiously, eyes a full and safe return to the fall sports season.

In an effort to combat COVID-19 — commonly referred to as coronavirus — the MPA, which governs all member high school varsity athletics, unveiled a four-step plan to allow student-athletes to participate in athletics in the fall, with the details of the first two of those four phases now known.

Click on link below to read complete guidelines.

"Returning to physical activity is essential for high school-aged athletes for both physical and mental well-being," said the MPA in its 22-page, Thursday, June 25 release. "Although risk cannot be eliminated entirely, this document serves to decrease the risk of transmission of communicable disease by adding preventative measures until there is a cure, vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19."

The MPA also stressed the policy, which provides recommendations and guidelines for high school sports to resume, "is a living, working document that is being continuously reviewed and updated."

COVID-19 is considered a droplet-transmitted disease, spread from person to person through microscopic particles of saliva that are expelled from the mouth or nose when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes. Droplets can be transmitted through the air if in close exposure — within six feet — or on a surface that has been contaminated with droplets from a person infected with COVID-19.

Direct physical contact during sports with an individual with COVID-19 is referred to as close exposure and is, according to the MPA’s report, one of the four ways one can come in direct contact with the virus.

While Phase 1 is designed to slowly reintegrate conditioning of student-athletes and Phase 2 outlined to ramp up those activities, many of the expectations, outlined below, in terms of safety throughout the first two phases, remain the same.

Coaches must track attendance of each student and other coaches daily, while those who have symptoms of COVID-19 or feel ill most stay home and only return when given medical clearance.

All equipment should be sanitized after individual use, disinfectant and hand sanitizers available on site and all involved should practice frequent hand washing when in contact with others or equipment.

Water bottles must be brought from home, as hydration stations will not be available, in an attempt to limit the amount of common surfaces touched. Food is limited to only that required for medical purposes.

It also is recommended by the MPA that each school “should establish a COVID-19 response team to help identify and implement policies and procedures for safe return-to-school and sport activities.”

Any COVID-19 symptoms, even if those symptoms appear mild, should be reported to a member of the school’s response team — typically an athletic trainer, coach or nurse — immediately upon feeling symptoms.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but may not be limited to, fever, runny nose, new cough, sneezing, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, chills, fatigue, malaise, chest pain, difficulty breathing, inability to keep down liquids, diarrhea, nausea or lost of taste or smell.

A medical evaluation will be required for student-athletes with a confirmed diagnosis, with full documentation to be provided to the COVID-19 response teams — and school medical professionals must review and recommend potential follow-up precautions to the team physician, the athlete and their parents/guardians — prior to rejoining their sports.

In addition, it is recommended that a well-developed emergency action plan (EAP) be put in place with specific language regarding COVID-19. It also is important each location where training is taking place have access to an automated external defibrillator, more commonly referred to as an AED.

Face coverings are to be worn properly and to be provided by the athletes themselves, with cloth masks to be washed daily or disposable coverings to be disposed of “when appropriate.” They are required whenever social distancing cannot be maintained and will be worn when not involved in strenuous exercise. Such instances include sitting on the bench, during chalk talks or interacting with an athletic trainer or coach, among others.

Those who are first-time participants in high school athletics will be required to have an in-person pre-participation physical evaluation (PPE). However, where it may not be feasible for every student-athlete to be able to have a physical prior to the school year (many districts have policies that require such exams every two years), those with valid, on-file physicals will be granted a one-year extension to receive a new physical.

Regardless of PPE status, all athletes will be required to fill out a complete health history questionnaire, which will include a section specific to COVID-19.

The MPA release states; “To ensure the health and well-being of all people involved with athletic activities, a screening tool has been developed to monitor the onset” of symptoms and screenings will be performed on athletes, coaches and staff involved with activities prior to arrival at practice.

That screening tool, which could be through email communication prior to activities or administered on-site by school personnel, is at the discretion of each school.

Communication from players, coaches, parents and relative personnel — in addition to education of the illness and policies — will be imperative for all parties involved, states the MPA.

Phase 1, which will consist of only outdoor facilities, will begin on Monday, July 6 and conclude on Sunday, July 19. Student-athletes are limited to one hour of activity per day, which will be limited to conditioning, strength training and agility training.

Students will be in “pods” of 10 people or fewer for training and must remain in those pods for the duration of Phase 1. Face coverings — cloth or disposable — should be worn through each phase when not engaging in vigorous activity.

Phase 2, which allows the use of indoor and outdoor facilities, will begin on Monday, July 20 and conclude on Sunday, Aug. 2. At that time, student-athletes are permitted two hours of activity per day, which will then consist of conditioning, strength training, agility and individual skill development. No form of competition, including one-on-one drills, are allowed.

Students will continue to be in “pods” of fewer than 10 people and must remain in those pods through the duration of the phase, but up to 50 students at a time will be permitted in designated outdoor areas.

Phase 3, called the extended conditioning and acclimatization period, will begin on Monday, Aug. 3 and conclude on Sunday, Aug. 16. Guidelines for Phase 3, in addition to the timeline and guidelines for Phase 4, currently are to be determined.

Any school athletic activity after Monday, Aug. 17, which was the predetermined official preseason start date for fall sports prior to COVID-19, has not been decided.

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