Dougherty: State education department raised more questions with latest guidance
It makes way more sense to have the NYSPHSAA develop basic protocols and safety guidelines in collaboration with education and health department officials.
Here we go again.
When the New York State Education Department released its health and safety guidance last week, optimism for a return to normal quickly began to fade.
The suggestion that high-risk sports like football and volleyball should be canceled in areas experiencing high rates of COVID transmission unless all participants are fully vaccinated is currently being met with defiance.
We’re a week away from the first official day of practice.
There isn’t a single mandate in the 21-page document, but the latest guidance from the state has administrators scrambling for answers.
Student athletes continue to push forward with offseason training as the Delta variant cases increase, but the level of anxiety right now is climbing in stride with the positivity rate.
We all want this pandemic to be over.
There was much optimism in the spring when spectator restrictions were eased, providing an enthusiastic atmosphere for the playoffs. Most of the championship games looked and sounded normal. There has been a setback, though, with this variant and it would be naïve to proceed without some adjustments to mitigate the lingering risk.
Masks are likely making a comeback. Testing may be a weekly ritual.
The recommendations from the state education department are frankly textbook. Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
“Due to increased exhalation that occurs during physical activity, some sports can put players, coaches, trainers, and others at increased risk for getting and spreading COVID-19. Close contact sports and indoor sports are particularly risky.”
It’s the same CDC guidance we’ve been reading for the last 18 months. Did anyone in Albany research the issue or Google incidents of spread via sports?
That oversimplification isn’t helping.
Look around the state. College teams are on the field practicing right now. The stands at professional sports venues are filling up. A crowd of 60,000 will be in Central Park this weekend for a concert.
State officials failed to provide actual clarity.
Where are the numbers? According to the New York State COVID-19 dashboard, the seven-day rolling positivity rate is currently 3.2% in the Mid-Hudson Valley, which includes all of Section 1 and Section 9. On the first day of soccer practice last September it was 1.9%. On the first day of basketball practice last February it was 5.8%. On the first day of football practice last March it was 4.3%. On the first day of lacrosse practice last April it was 2.8%.
Where is the context? There is no mention of current vaccination rates across the state, which certainly impacts the level of risk. Even with the hesitancy issues and political objections, that rate is up significantly in the last six months. The number varies in the region with 69.5% of the population in Westchester having received at least one shot and 52.6% of the population in Orange having received at least one shot.
Education officials probably should've mentioned they lack the authority to mandate or enforce health policy.
The guidance is essentially a backward lateral.
Even so, let's keep the pitchforks and torches in the barn for a week and let the superintendents, athletic directors and local government officials confer. Nobody is whispering behind the scenes about postponing the start of the fall season.
It's safe to assume football and volleyball will indeed start on Monday.
The superintendents have regular meetings with local health officials, so the discussion is underway and the end goal is an updated list of binding safety protocols that will help keep in-person learning and interscholastic athletics on track.
We really don't need state legislators drafting bills to ban all future guidance yet.
Perhaps when Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is elevated later this month, she can restore a measure of authority to the NYSPHSAA, which has been stymied by outgoing Gov. Andrew Cuomo since last summer.
It's fine to leave the final say in health and safety matters in schools to state and local officials, but health commissioners and county executives often do not understand the landscape of interscholastic sports.
Ever heard of teamwork? It makes way more sense to have the NYSPHSAA develop these basic protocols and safety guidelines in collaboration with education and health department officials. That's how it works in neighboring states.
Once again, the final say rests with local school districts. Right now the sentiment is play on, but if even one superintendent objects, we're in for another bumpy ride.
Mike Dougherty covers boys soccer, boys lacrosse, girls basketball and golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @hoopsmbd, @lohudlacrosse, @lohudhoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.