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Pritzker announces new restrictions for fall sports statewide

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Thursday, July 30, 2020  |  Article  |  By Kevin Bessler | The Center Square

Education--Elementary and Secondary (36) , Governor (44) , Health (49) Butler, Tim--State House, 87

(The Center Square) – Friday night lights in Illinois have been dimmed, but the new state restrictions for sports aren't limited to high school football, which will be moved to the spring.

Fearing a spread of COVID-19, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday released guidelines for youth and recreational fall sports, which essentially cancels the upcoming high school football season. The guidelines don't apply to professional or collegiate sports.

The governor said each sport will be categorized under three risk levels – high, medium and low – determined by the amount of contact between athletes and their proximity during play. Football has been classified as a high-risk sport, so no-contact practices and training are allowed, but not games. Other high-risk sports include wrestling, hockey and competitive cheer.

“I know our hearts break when we hear the word “restrictions”, especially when it comes to our children’s love for their sports,” Pritzker said. “Whether this year is their first time on the court or it is their senior year season, this isn’t news that anyone wants to hear.”

Basketball, soccer and volleyball were labeled medium risk sports. Scrimmages are allowed, but competitive games are not. Lower-risk sports include baseball, softball, tennis, golf and cross country. Those sports will be allowed to compete.

The Illinois High School Association, which governs high school sports, announced Wednesday that three higher-risk sports – football, girls volleyball and boys soccer – will be moved to the spring and will begin Feb. 15. Sports that typically occur during the winter season will remain the same.

Barry Reilly, superintendent of schools for District 87 in Bloomington, said considering the guidelines for students in school, allowing close contact sports is not feasible.

“We are not allowing kids in school without face coverings and we are making them social distance, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense having close contact sports going on,” Reilly said.

Similar to other guidance, the Illinois Department of Public Health said sports organizations should make temperature checks available and participants and coaches should monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and should not participate if they are experiencing illness. Sports organizers or coaches also must maintain attendance logs of participants for contact tracing purposes.

“Extracurricular activities and sports are an important part to a well-rounded education,” State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala said. “This guidance is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all approach and takes into account the inherent risk level of each individual sports and current health conditions.”

The governor's announcement was met with criticism from some Republican lawmakers.

“From Day One of his executive orders, the Governor has said he relies solely upon science to make his decisions,” state Rep. Tim Butler said in a statement. “Well, where is his science on these decisions today? Why are sports like lacrosse or ultimate frisbee a higher risk level than basketball and soccer? What is the science on four different levels of play? Yet again, the Governor seems to be making these decisions completely on his own, and certainly with no input from any other elected official.”

The guidance takes effect on Aug. 15.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,393 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois on Wednesday, including 18 additional deaths.

Statewide, the department has reported a total of 175,124 cases, including 7,462 deaths. In the past 24 hours, laboratories in Illinois reported 38,187 specimens for testing, bring the statewide total to 2,608,652. The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity rate from July 22 to July 28 is 3.8%.

As of Tuesday night, 1,491 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 355 were in the ICU and 152 were on ventilators, according to the department.