Erie County Department of Health Weighs in on Youth Sports Travel

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In an update last week, Governor Cuomo announced that the number of states and territories included on the Covid-19 Travel Advisory List had reached forty, with three more that meet metrics but are not being included. Cuomo explained, “[n]eighboring states Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania now meet the criteria for the travel advisory — however, given the interconnected nature of the region and mode of transport between us, a quarantine on these states is not practically viable. That said, New York State highly discourages, to the extent practical, non-essential travel to and from these states while they meet the travel advisory criteria.”

This discrepancy created some confusion amongst parents, coaching staff and school districts relating to travel sports teams participating in out-of-state games and tournaments. After consulting with Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH), Williamsville Central School District sent a letter informing families and staff of the Governor’s comments about avoiding non-essential travel to these states. The letter also clarifies that the 24-hour or less exception–which allows individuals that simply pass through a listed state to avoid the 14 day quarantine–“does not apply if you are staying in the State and/or engaging in activities, such as sports or recreational activities, and will result in a 14-day quarantine upon return to New York State.”

Shortly after this letter was sent, the ECDOH released an update of their own on the topic. In it, ECDOH reiterates that all sports programs operating in New York State must follow NY Forward guidelines, which very clearly state that travel for competitive tournaments of multiple games, meets, matches, or scrimmages are not permitted. This is true even if the team or individual is only participating in a single event and applies to lower-risk, moderate-risk, and high-risk sports alike. Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein, is quoted in the update saying “[c]oaches and parents who choose to allow children to travel out of state for sports events are putting our school districts and community at risk for travel-based COVID-19 cases.” These concerns are warranted as Covid-19 clusters are being traced back to sporting events in other areas of the country.

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According to a recent CDC report, one man at a recreational hockey game in Tampa Bay is responsible for infecting 14 others. Last week, Massachusetts ordered all indoor ice rinks to close after 30 different clusters (totaling 108 cases) were linked to indoor hockey. New Hampshire has had to make similar moves after 158 cases were found to be connected to hockey over a two month period. While these super-spreader events are all tied to indoor hockey, the conditions that created them are not completely unique to that sport. As the weather cools down and games, tournaments, and matches that were previously held outdoors no longer can be, a similar result in other sports is foreseeable. With such foreseeability, it will be interesting to see how swiftly states enforce their guidelines by fining programs, facilities, or individuals who refuse to follow them.

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