Suffolk issues new guidance for HS sports as COVID-19 rate drops

SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY (OnSachem.com / OnTownMedia.com) — Mandatory COVID-19 testing for high-risk high school sports is no longer required, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced as he detailed updated guidance from the Department of Health Services.

Based on the decreasing positivity rate for COVID-19 in Suffolk County, the increasing rate of vaccination, and the eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine having been expanded to those 16 years of age and over, as well as the ability to practice and play outdoors, mandatory testing for high-risk sports is no longer required, Bellone said on Friday.

While testing is no longer required, the Health Department recommends weekly testing and encourages athletic programs to develop opportunities for their student-athletes 16 and over to get vaccinated, Bellone said. The county will continue to provide test kits to those districts that request them for boys' lacrosse - the only high-risk sport involved in the spring season. Since Feb. 1, the county has distributed 80,000 test kits for high-risk sports. Additionally, the County Executive’s Office and Health Department are coordinating with the Suffolk County Police Department’s MedCAT unit to pilot a vaccine clinic for student-athletes and other student groups next week, beginning with Center Moriches School District. 

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“As a parent, I understood just how important it was to get our kids back out on the field, and over the last few months our student-athletes and coaches have proven that with the right protocols in place, all sports can be played in a safe manner,” Bellone said. “From the onset of this pandemic, we have followed the data, and with the lowest positivity rate we have seen in months and increasing vaccinations, the health department will no longer be requiring weekly testing for student-athletes. Ultimately, the vaccine is the tool that will enable us to win this war, and we will be working with our local districts to ensure students have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.” 

Ron Masera, Superintendent, Center Moriches School District, said: “We are grateful for this opportunity to partner with the County Executive’s office to be the first student vaccination pod in a Suffolk County school district. As we seek to obtain more normalcy in our daily lives, providing this opportunity to students is another positive step forward. We hope that this provides some sense of relief to those students and families who take advantage of the opportunity.” 

Desmond Megna, President Suffolk County Lacrosse Coaches Association, said: "Even though the lacrosse world is but a mere microcosm as it relates to the pandemic and its negative impact we strongly agreed that this was a necessary step in helping these young men who have already lost so much attempt to regain a bit of normalcy. We applaud the county office and Executive Bellone, who allowed us our moment, listened with open minds, and acted in the best interest of the student-athletes whilst maintaining a sufficient amount of safety in these still troubling times. We also welcome the chance to pilot programs that we believe are aimed to both improve our communities well being, as well as connect different agencies with our youth." 

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Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, said: "To date, the Suffolk County Police Department has provided over 17,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, at 47 points of distribution in 11 different locations, including numerous pop-up PODs in various communities. The department is pleased to now be able to assist in vaccinating student-athletes and other student groups to provide an enhanced level of protection and a return to a more traditional education experience.” 

In January, Bellone announced a comprehensive plan that would allow for sports deemed as high-risk to resume with common-sense safety measures and guidelines in place. The county’s plan, which was developed in close consultation with the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and Section XI, has allowed for approximately 21,500 student-athletes to take part in their respective high-risk sports. On average, there are over 60,000 student-athletes taking part in various high school sports during a normal school year. 

Suffolk County Department of Health guidelines to ensure safe play include

  • Taking the temperatures of players and coaches before practices and games. 
  • Masks should be worn whenever possible, especially when on the sidelines not engaged in play. 
  • Enforce social distancing when not engaged in play. 
  • Require hand washing or sanitizing of hands before and after practices and games, and after sharing equipment. 
  • Minimize equipment sharing. Players should bring their own equipment; have individual water bottles, and no sharing of food. 
  • Maintain attendance logs of players, staff, and coaches. Attendance logs should include contact information. 
  • Play in smart spaces. Always outdoors if possible. Use large and well-ventilated spaces for play. 
  • Consider dividing larger teams into smaller groups and stagger practices with different times or days. Limit those individuals not essential to the practice from attending.

Suffolk County’s positivity rate on Friday stood at 2.1 percent, Bellone said. Since Feb. 1, Suffolk County’s 7-day rolling positivity rate has continued to decline from 7.41 percent to 2.84 percent as of April 21. So far, the month of April alone has seen over a 3 percent decrease in the county’s 7-day rolling positivity rate.

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