New guidelines were issued yesterday by the Calvert County Health Department for youth soccer, flag football, field hockey, and lacrosse. The guidelines were written after several discussions with representatives from the Calvert Soccer Association, and Calvert County Parks and Recreation. Our mutual goals were to allow all children and teens to play sports and do this in a way that is less likely to result in outbreaks of infection.
During the past week, COVID infections in Calvert County have doubled compared to each of
the previous 3 weeks. Please keep in mind that the numbers below only account for people
who have been tested and therefore are an undercount of actual infections in Calvert. Rates
increased in every age group from young children to 60 year-olds. There are currently four
people admitted to CalvertHealth Medical Center with severe COVID infections. Since the time from initial infection to severe illness is typically 1 ½ to 2 ½ weeks, it’s expected that
hospitalizations will rise through September.
Although severe infections among children and teens are very uncommon, children can spread infection to adults, some of whom are at high-risk of medical complications. Higher rates of COVID infection among children and teens will also make it harder for schools to reopen. This is a reminder that although sports are very important, they don’t happen in a vacuum. Although in the NBA, they happen in a bubble. Every professional sports league has modified its rules (Major League Baseball is playing in pods, it banned players from chewing sunflower seeds (spitting), shut down all farm teams, etc.). The NFL has players and staff wearing Bluetooth trackers. And every professional sports league is performing extensive COVID testing in a way that only multi-billion dollar organizations can. They all recognize there is true risk, even for people who get extensive medical screening and are among the best physically conditioned human beings on the planet.
MLB, the NBA, and the NFL are sacrificing billions of dollars to make sure they can maintain
reasonably safe playing environments for their players, staff, and their families.
The guidelines issued yesterday for all moderate contact youth sports build on some of the
ideas of the pros. We want kids to be physically active. We want them to be around friends.
We also understand that there are other important elements of team sports, including getting
along with others whether you win or lose and working together for a common goal. The four
representatives from the Health Department who worked on these guidelines are all parents.
Three have children currently playing youth sports, and the other coached youth soccer for his child’s team not too long ago.
It’s been a very trying six months. Many families have been financially hurt. Children have
been separated from schoolmates. There are current social and political forces that are
emotionally stressful. All in all, 2020 has been a very rough year for almost everyone. It’s
important that we keep a sense of perspective when judging youth sports guidelines. These
guidelines do not prevent any children from getting on the field with friends and playing sports.
At a minimum, a child will be on the field with at least 7 others their own age. Older children
and teens will be able to play full-strength games with some modest adjustments. And these
changes are temporary. One or more safe, effective vaccines will likely be available in the
spring. If not, it’s almost a certainty that vaccines will be available before next fall.
Some parents have questioned the age 10 cutoff for full-strength games. One thing that we
should be able to agree on is that 6 year-olds on a soccer field bear more resemblance to a
swarm of bees buzzing around a ball than they do to an actual soccer team. Young players stay in very close contact for extended periods. 12 year-olds understand the game and are
disciplined enough to properly space apart. There is no precise age when the shift from bees to soccer players occurs. Anytime a cut-off has to be determined, there is always someone just on the other side who feels slighted. If a 16 year-old can drive, why can’t a 15 year-old? If a 17 year-old can join the military, why can’t a 16 year-old? The age 10 cut-off for full-strength
games was felt to be the best compromise by the three organizations mentioned above. An
exception was made for 8 and 9 year-olds in travel leagues based on the selective nature of
these teams. This is a temporary situation. Any young children playing microgames this fall will
be back to their regular games next year.
We have also heard complaints about restrictions on spectators. Youth sports is the only type of athletic competition in Maryland allowed to have any spectators. The reality is that people
from different households will see others they know and get together for prolonged
conversations. Since there’s no practical way to enforce social distancing, having a uniform rule to limit spectators allows coaches to concentrate on their players. Whether COVID is spread on a playing field or sideline, it still drives up cases and the potential for serious i