MEDFORD, Ore. — Phase II reopening in southern Oregon counties means that tennis and other non-contact sports will finally be able to resume. But contact recreational sports aren't allowed until Phase III, which requires there to be "a reliable treatment or vaccine to be available."
What that means is the fall sports seasons for professional athletes down to "ankle-biters" is in jeopardy. There are talks, however, of finding a safe way to let pro and college athletes take the field this fall, but not for high school sports.
One of the Jackson County Commissioners, however, is trying to change that. Rick Dyer started a Facebook group called 'Let Them Play - Oregonians for Athletes' and a petition under the same name was created by Ryan Mallory. That petition, as of the posting of this article, has nearly 12,000 signatures.
"To me, and the way I feel about it, these sports and what they teach kids and the benefits to kids are so valuable that people understand that and they want to do something about it," Dyer said.
The petition has gained the support of local high school athletes and coaches, urging people to support the push for high school and youth athletics this fall.
NewsWatch 12 Sports reached out to the governor's office about the petition and the support it's gaining. Charles Boyle the Deputy Communications Director for Kate Brown issued a statement saying, "Our office continues to engage in conversations with stakeholders––from the professional level to the youth sports level––about how sports activities can resume safely in Oregon... The decisions our office makes regarding COVID-19 are being guided by science and health outcomes, and the current recommendation we have received from health experts is that it is not yet safe for Oregon’s youth to return to participating in contact sports, without risking spreading the disease throughout our communities."
The full statement from Boyle and the Office of the Governor is available at the bottom of the article.
As far as risk assesment goes for health experts when it comes to playing sports at any level, things can get very tricky very fast because of how quickly COVID-19 spreads.
Dr. Ryan Norton, D.O. is a family and sports medicine doctor at Oregon Health Sciences Univeristy and works closely with high school athletics.
"All it takes is one or two cases to potentially cause an outbreak within that team and that jeopardizes the season," Dr. Norton said.
Pro sports have the advantage of everyone involved with the team is paid by the team and would usually travel with their team during the season. Because of that, they have the option of playing in a sort of "bubble scenario" like the NBA is using in Orlando.
College sports are looking at ideas that allow players to return to campus for voluntary workouts. At Oregon, players will be required to have an antibody test done when they arrive and once weekly.
"There's going to be exceptions made at the college and pro level," Dyer said. "And so my question was of course, or is if it can be made safe at those levels, it can be done safely at any level."
But one of the issues that Dr. Norton brought up is that including even just high school athletes to the testing pool is costly on a few ends.
"One is there's a cost to [produce and administer] the test," Dr. Norton said. "And then there's the utilization of those tests and potentially taking away from the healthcare system or the state of Oregon who may need those tests for symptomatic people, right? So that's one part of why testing for every high school athlete just may not be practical."
In additon, pro and college programs have the luxury of having more control over the athletes and the facilities they use. At the high school level, most facilities are shared and high schoolers... are just that: high schoolers.
"I think anyone who has a high school age kid is going to know that, like, 'I'm not going to control this,'" Dr. Norton said. "You have to look at the protocols you have in place, realize these are high school kids. And some of them you're going to be able to contain in some fashion, but a lot of them are just going to be kids and they're going to interact with other people."
But for Dyer and the nearly 12,000 signees of the 'Let Them Play' petition, there is still more to look at.
"This plan, and any sort of solution to my knowledge, hasn't been explored adequately by any means," Dyer said. "And that's what needs to happen and it needs to happen quickly."
Kate Brown: Let Them Play - Oregonians for Athletes (End Sports Lockdown) - Sign the Petition! https://t.co/lF9SjWKmcS via @Change
— Sam Vidlak (@SamVidlak7) June 7, 2020
Statement from Office of Governor Kate Brown to NewsWatch 12, June 9, 2020:
Our office continues to engage in conversations with stakeholders––from the professional level to the youth sports level––about how sports activities can resume safely in Oregon. The OSAA has been involved in those conversations regarding youth sports. While we would like to give youth athletes and parents more certainty around this issue, especially given the positive mental and physical benefits sports can provide in times like these, this is unfortunately a case where the spread of coronavirus will dictate the timeline of when sports activities can resume, as well as how those activities will need to be modified for health and safety.
The decisions our office makes regarding COVID-19 are being guided by science and health outcomes, and the current recommendation we have received from health experts is that it is not yet safe for Oregon’s youth to return to participating in contact sports, without risking spreading the disease throughout our communities. We recognize that this is an incredibly difficult time for all Oregon’s athletes, from the professional level down to our youth sports teams, and we all want to see the day when Oregon’s athletes can take the field again. It is currently possible in Phase 1 and Phase 2 counties for athletes to return to training under strict physical distancing and sanitization guidelines, but contact sports are currently prohibited.
Whether public health experts will recommend allowing further sports activities to operate by issuing additional Phase 2 guidance will depend on how the disease is behaving in our communities and what safeguards organizations can put in place in order to operate safely and protect public health. At this point, we are still in conversations about what a return to play even for college and professional sports would look like. However, many of the safeguards those teams could put in place would not be feasible for high school or other youth teams. For example, collegiate and professional teams have the resources and facilities to provide for the health screening, COVID-19 testing, and isolation of athletes, coaches, and staff––measures that would not currently be realistic for high school and youth teams. We are in conversations with stakeholders to determine what additional steps need to be taken for youth athletes to return to play in a safe and secure fashion, to protect the health and safety of athletes, coaches, and our communities. We welcome the input of all Oregon’s youth athletes, their families, coaches, and other impacted Oregonians about how that can happen.