During an emergency meeting Friday morning, the University Interscholastic League’s medical advisory committee passed a return-to-play motion that requires a physician to clear any student-athlete or marching band member of COVID-19 symptoms before they are permitted to return to that set activity.
That rule, according to Dr. Albert Hergenroeder, a sports medicine physician who is currently the Chief of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine of the Texas Children’s Hospital, mirrors the Center for Disease Control’s return-to-work guidelines.
The CDC requires a worker who has contracted the novel coronavirus to quarantine for 10 days, show improving signs and test negative for a fever.
Another board member, Dr. Cary Tanamachi, an orthopedic surgeon at the Mesquite Orthopedic Clinic, asked what happens if a parent of a player tests positive. Dr. Mark Chassay, a doctor in sports medicine at IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute in Houston, replied that he or she should follow the same set of guidelines by the CDC that requires a self-imposed quarantine of 10 days.
"At some point, people have to trust what the CDC is saying is the truth, in spite of its criticisms,” Hergenroeder said. “The CDC is the last word."
Ultimately, the decision to have fall sports is up to each school district. That comes on the heels of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issuing a letter July 28 about what local authorities can and can’t do when it comes to returning to school. While playing an important role in protecting the health of school children and employees, local health authorities can’t issue sweeping orders closing schools for the sole purpose of preventing future COVID-19 infections, Paxton said.
UIL Executive Director Jamey Harrison said he knew about four counties that didn’t have any COVID-19 cases, but understanding that the state’s most-populated counties are still reporting hundreds of new infections every day, the final decision as whether that high school sports can be played falls on the school districts and not the UIL.
"We have a lot of school districts that are going to be virtual learning for four to eight weeks, but we're going to have athletics and have contact athletics with football and volleyball and then not-so-contact with cross country and team tennis,” another board member said. “I'm still at a crossroads to how we can justify having contact sports, but no in-person classroom."
Harrison understood that person’s position but replied that there is less risk in catching an infection during a sports practice with significantly less number of students than that roaming the hallways of a school.
"Pick a 4A high school that's got 1,000 kids, and bringing 1,000 kids indoors for eight hours with the entire high school staff,” Harrison said. “You have to feed those kids breakfast. You have to feed those kids lunch. They change classes. You have to get them to school, which often times, with school busing. They're indoors a vast majority of that eight hours breathing recycled air. That is a whole set of challenges that is really overwhelming.
“When you think about it, you're again talking about a 4A school, bringing 60 to 70 kids to an outside football practice for two hours, or 20 to 30 volleyball girls with two coaches in a gym for an hour-and-a-half or two hours. With the risk mitigation guidelines that we've put in place, that still presents challenges, but it is nowhere nearly as challenging as a project as bringing the entire school community together for the entire day."