Del. coronavirus recovery: Sports tournaments restricted based on risk of COVID spread

High school football players in Delaware

Delaware has instituted new rules for sports based on designated virus risk. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Updated at 4:35 p.m.

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Delaware has reported 17,535 coronavirus cases and 605 related deaths. A total of 64 people are currently hospitalized, with 11 in critical condition.

Carney unveils sports restrictions

Delaware has reported 17,535 coronavirus cases and 605 related deaths. A total of 64 people are currently hospitalized, with 11 in critical condition.

Delaware has already postponed its fall high school sports seasons, but with private sports tournaments gearing up to fill the void, Gov. John Carney set new rules Tuesday that take into account sports-specific risks for spreading the coronavirus.

Whether a sport is considered high-risk, medium-risk, and low-risk will dictate the requirements around masks, social distancing and other preventive measures to keep players, families, coaches and referees safe.

High-risk sports such as football, ice hockey and wrestling had been banned but they are now permitted. But participants must wear a face mask at all times, or an organization or league must present a plan to the Division of Public Health to modify the sport to limit contact, according to the guidance. Tournament organizers must apply to public health officials for approval to hold their events.

The rules aren’t as strict for medium-risk sports such as soccer and softball, and even less restrictive for low-risk athletic endeavors such as singles tennis or cross country.

Violations could bring fines or closure of a facility or tournament, officials said.

“We want Delaware’s children to be active, to get outside this fall. But coaches, sports organizers and parents need to make sure they’re following all necessary precautions to keep children and families safe from COVID-19,” Carney said in a news release.

“This virus is still active in our communities. Wear a mask. Physically distance from others. Don’t gather in large groups. We’re beating this virus, but we all need to stay vigilant.”

Carney, who played college football, said during his weekly coronavirus briefing Tuesday that he was skeptical the sport could be played during the pandemic but said public health officials and other health authorities convinced him it could be done with strict rules.

Carney added that the goal is simply to let kids and adults play, but safely.

“The main thing is to encourage everybody involved in the event to take the guidance seriously,’’ Carney said. “Mostly it’s about wearing masks and keeping social distance. If we can’t do that, then we can’t do the sports safely and we’re gonna have to shut them down because we can’t afford to go the wrong way.”

Public health official Jamie Mack stresses that rules also apply to spectators.

“If you’re walking around the facility, if you’re talking to your player, talking to the coaches, you should wear a face covering,’’ Mack said.

That rule applies “unless you’re sitting with your family, able to maintain distance,’’ he said.

Each sports facility or league must also identify a safety and hygiene manager to coordinate and enforce COVID-19 protocols.

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