Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's secretary of health, endorsed Gov. Tom Wolf's recommendation to halt scholastic sports until January 2021, saying they're not "worth the risk" given COVID-19.
During a press conference Monday about reopening Pennsylvania schools, Levine said Wolf's recommendation was based on out-of-state data involving severe pediatric cases that require hospitalization and ICU stays. Levine also cited reports of a youth camp in Georgia, where a large percentage of children and staffers were infected. Levine said that little "granular data" exists about scholastic sports in Pennsylvania because schools have not re-opened and practices have not started.
Further, Levine noted that several college conferences, including the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West, have postponed fall sports. The Big Ten has not yet announced a decision on whether it will conduct a fall sports season.
"Even though many of the sports are outside, many of the sports are going to involve a lot of personal contact, not only football but especially football, where social distancing is not going to be possible," Levine said. "... So we wanted to give kids the best chance to stay healthy, counties and kids the best chance to actually have full in-person education. Like many other states, as well as the MAC Conference in college and a number of schools that have come out saying that it's just not safe, given what we're anticipating in the fall, to be in sports."
Levine's explanation followed Wolf's recommendation last week that scholastic and youth sports not be played in Pennsylvania until January 2021. The remark surprised leagues, coaches and athletes across the state who were preparing to begin fall sports practices Monday.
Bob Lombardi, executive director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, said he was "as surprised as anyone" by the governor's recommendation. The PIAA responded by delaying the start of fall practices for two weeks while seeking additional information from state officials. Schools now are scheduled to begin fall practice Aug. 24.
Several Pennsylvania lawmakers released statements critical of Wolf's recommendation, which came at the end of a press conference. The executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League called Wolf's comments "unfair" and said the league supports playing this season. The Philadelphia Public League postponed fall sports until 2021.
A Pennsylvania organization called "Let Them Play" plans an Aug. 20 rally in Harrisburg to support playing scholastic sports this fall.
"I understand, being a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist, how important sports can be for kids," Levine said, "how important in terms of their mental health, their physical health and for some in terms of opportunities for college. But given the size and scope of this global pandemic, we as well as many other states, and I think you'll find more and more colleges and college leagues, are going to say it's not worth the risk to do sports this fall given COVID-19."
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