As COVID-19 cases soar, should high school sports resume?

With practice for boys and girls high school basketball set to begin on Monday, Dec. 7, and Coronavirus infections increasing at a rapid rate, are we putting students athletes at risk?
JV Basketball action against James River.

Practice for Floyd County High School’s boys and girls basketball teams is scheduled to begin on Dec. 7 — Monday of next week, with games set to begin before the New Year if conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic improve.

That’s a big “if.” Floyd County’s virus count has increased by more than 20 in the past week — 15 a few days ago and five again in Monday’s report from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). That gives the county an infection rate of 2,222 cases per 100,000 population, which is the measurement used by the health departments and the Virginia High School League (VHSL) for determining whether a school can play sports.

Botetourt County has an infection rate of 2,338 cases per 100k and a death rate of 39.1. It is delaying any start of basketball until mid-January or may have to pull the season entirely.

Floyd County’s death rate is 95. Rockbridge County has a death rate of 8.8 and a case rate of 1,155.9 — nearly half of Floyd County’s rate — and suspended all athletic activity on Monday.

“All workouts, practices, tryouts are put on hold until further notice,” Rockbridge High School athletic director Mike Gale tells Robert Anderson of The Roanoke Times. “We hopefully will have more information in the coming days on when and if we can move forward with winter sports.”

Gale expects his high school athletes will not join any other schools that may start practice next Monday.

“At this point, it doesn’t look good,” Gale told the Times. “I wouldn’t anticipate it at this point. All I know is it is on hold and hopefully get some more answers this week.”

VHSL is currently leaving the decision on whether to play sports this winter up to the schools and the number of those opting out is increasing.

Henrico County pulled the plug on winter sports Monday. So has Richmond city schools, Williamsburg/James City County, Alexandria and several systems in Southside.

Private schools Roanoke Catholic, Faith Christian and Dayspring private schools opted out of winter sports several weeks ago. Bath County is delaying the start of winter sports until at least Jan. 18 but VHSL rules require eight days of preseason practice before playing a first season game.

Schools in Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem, Botetourt County, Craig County, Craig County, Alleghany County and Covington say they will use the VDH “metrics” to determine if they can practice for or play winter sports. Same for Franklin County, but none of the system satisfy the health system numbers of new cases limits in the last seven days.

Does Floyd County? Not in recent days. “CDC K-12 School Metrics,” had previously listed the county in the “orange zone,” considered “higher risk” but the report on Nov. 30 put the county in “red,” which means “highest risk” and the Virginia Department of Health and CDC has urged schools in red zones to discontinue any and all athletic events.

The county’s total number of new cases rate is 424.2 per 100,000 with an RT-PCR test rate of 12.2%. To reach the “red” zone, the new case rate must top 200 (Floyd has doubled that number) and 10% in RT-PCR tests during the last 14 days.

CDC urges schools to limit schools from engaging in athletic events that involve teams form the “same geographic area or teams from different regions.”

Notes the CDC:

The more people a child or coach interacts with, the closer the physical interaction, the longer that interaction, and the more sharing of equipment there is by multiple players, the higher the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spread. The risk of spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 increases in youth sports settings.

College and professional sports have encountered increasing problems. A football game by the University of Virginia against Florida State was cancelled at the last minute on Saturday. COVID-19 infections shut down the stadium area of the San Francisco team and left the Denver Broncos without a quarterback last Sunday. The Broncos suffered a lopsided loss with a wide receiver standing in as quarterback.

Writes Jerry Brewer in The Washington Post:

The NFL was a joke Sunday, at a time when nothing about the coronavirus warrants laughter. In Baltimore, the Ravens reported a positive test for the eighth straight day, further jeopardizing a twice-delayed game against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. In the Bay Area, the San Francisco 49ers were rendered temporarily homeless, if they want to keep playing football, because of local restrictions. And in Denver, the Broncos played — or something like that — without a true quarterback.

The complications were absurd, the stuff of satire. But everything is dark humor in the context of a pandemic that has killed more than 266,000 Americans. On a November afternoon programmed for football, it’s understandable to get lost in tradition and consider the NFL’s difficulty containing the virus to be inevitable follies. It’s understandable to keep finding reason to support plowing ahead, because the sport has made it to Week 12 with no cancellations and a surprisingly manageable number of schedule adjustments. However, all is neither well nor under control in the NFL.

High school basketball is an often tough and tumbling contact sports at Floyd County High and other gyms around the Old Dominion. New limitations imposed by the Virginia Governor now limits the number of fans that can attend a game in a closed gymnasium.

Is the risk of contraction of a fatal virus worth the risk to our high school athletes and others involved in a game in these perilous times?