Guidelines announced for return of youth sports

DOVER — Youth sports will be coming back as Delaware begins the second phase of its reopening from the shutdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Gov. John Carney warned there are some changes that will take some getting used to.

“The new normal is just different,” Gov. Carney said during his Friday press conference. “The objective is to have kids out and playing.”

Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, presented new guidelines for sports looking to start in phase two.

Sports were divided into three tiers based on their risk level — low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk. Low-risk and medium-risk sports can begin on Monday if they adhere to guidance.

Low-risk sports are mostly individual sports like golf and tennis. Medium-risk sports are sports where social distancing is not able to happen at all times or the sport uses a shared ball like baseball, softball, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, volleyball and outdoor basketball.

High-risk sports cannot begin until additional recommendations are provided. High-risk sports include indoor basketball, ice hockey, football, wrestling and rugby.

These sports can only do conditioning and practice drills during the second phase of reopening, provided they maintain social distancing.

Face coverings will be required for players, staff, volunteers, parents and spectators at sporting events unless it poses a breathing hazard for participants. It is recommenced players use face coverings as much as feasible, especially if not on the field.

“This is one of the most important things we can do to keep this virus contained,” Dr. Rattay said.

For contact sports, players and coaches are asked to limit contact to games only, meaning no contact drills in practice.

Hand-washing and sanitizing is recommended before and after entering the field of play, especially in sports where the ball is shared. Equipment is also to be sanitized before and after each use and it is suggested to not share equipment between players when possible.

Teams came resume competitions starting Monday but no tournaments are allowed. Teams must identify a screening and hygiene manager to ensure all participants are following the guidelines.

Some local leagues are scheduled to resume practices Monday. M.O.T. Little League will play all divisions in baseball and softball this summer while Smyrna-Clayton Little Lass will have a softball season. Milford Little League is providing Major League Baseball only. All other leagues in District I have canceled their regular seasons.

The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports in the state, decided on Thursday that it would follow the guidelines established by the governor’s office.

Sport-specific rule changes to ensure social distancing will be introduced this summer.

For baseball and softball, the state recommends moving the batter’s box up or having the catcher wear a face-covering. The umpire will also be 6-feet behind the pitcher, instead of behind home plate, and no stealing bases will be allowed to allow fielders to social distance from runners instead of holding them on.

“None of us want to change the game itself,” Dr. Rattay said. “There’s been a lot of thought put into not changing the game, but really approaching this in a way, in the midst of a pandemic, to decrease the spread of infection. That’s really the point of all of these changes and all of this guidance.”

“It’s temporary,” Dr. Rattay added. “I hope people can keep that in mind. We’re not going to be living in the midst of a pandemic forever, but these are things that can help us play safely.”

Gov. Carney said he understood things will be different than what players are used to, but wanted to keep Delaware on its path of declining cases and hospitalizations. He pointed to 12 states that have seen increased COVID-19 cases since Memorial Day when they rolled back restrictions.

“I don’t want to waste all that because we want to play softball the way we’re used to playing,” Gov. Carney said.

Suggested rules for soccer are to disallow body-checking and headers. Lacrosse is suggested to use a coin toss instead of faceoffs or draws while girls’ lacrosse should only have two players contesting a groundball. Field hockey should social distance during penalty corners while volleyball and flag football should limit the amount of players on the field. Basketball should only be played outside.
For competitions between different teams, arrival times should be staggered and teams should not shake hands post-game.

“You don’t really know the other players or other parents,” Gov. Carney said. “All of a sudden you test positive for COVID-19, there is a big challenge figuring out who also might be exposed. … That’s the main reason we’re moving slowly on big sports tournaments.

“We certainly need to bring sports back,” Gov. Carney added. “And do it in a way that is safe for the children, the parents, the grandparents, the coaches and all the folks who come to watch the games.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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