IDPH, Pritzker release new sports guidance; regions will progress at different rates

IHSA: Low-risk winter sports can begin practice in regions under Tier 2 mitigations

St. Charles East High School student athlete Blaine Hansen, a senior, joins other athletes outside the school on Oct. 30 in response to the postponement of the winter sports seasons by Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois High School Association.

Three Illinois regions moving out of Tier 3 and into Tier 2 of the Illinois COVID-19 mitigation plan can resume some youth and adult recreational sports, Gov. JB Pritzker said during a news conference Friday. Additionally, the state released new guidance surrounding youth and recreational sports, including school-based sports under the Illinois Elementary School Association and the IHSA.

According to new guidance issued by the state, different regions of the state will be allowed to resume recreational sports, including IHSA sports, at different times depending on how the region is doing in the state’s tiered COVID-19 mitigation efforts. The new guidelines include youth and adult recreational sports, travel clubs and recreational leagues.

Under the guidelines, all health regions in Tier 3 of the mitigation protocols (which until Friday was all 11 health regions) must pause all indoor sporting activities. Regions can proceed to different levels of play as mitigation efforts move into Tier 2 and eventually to Tier 1.

Per the guidance, there are four levels of play for sports:

  • Level 1: Noncontact practices and training only.
  • Level 2: Intrateam scrimmages allowed with parental consent. No competitive games.
  • Level 3: Intraconference or intraregion play only. State tournaments are allowed only for low-risk sports.
  • Level 4: Tournaments, out-of-conference or out-of-region play is allowed. Out-of-state play is allowed. Championship games are allowed.

Under Tier 2 mitigation, lower-risk sports can play at Level 3, medium-risk sports at Level 2 and higher-risk sports at Level 1.

Under Tier 1 mitigation efforts, lower-risk sports can play at Level 4, medium-risk sports at Level 3 and higher-risk sports at Level 2.

Risk levels for each sport are as follows:

  • Lower risk: archery, badminton, baseball, bass fishing, bowling, climbing, competitive cheer, competitive dance, crew, cross country, cycling, disc golf, fencing, gymnastics, horseback riding, ice skating, ropes courses, sailing/canoeing/kayaking, scholastic golf, sideline spirit, skateboarding, softball, skiing, swimming/diving, tennis, track and field, weight lifting.
  • Medium risk: flag football/7-on-7 football, futsal, paintball, racquetball, soccer, volleyball, water polo, wheelchair basketball
  • Higher risk: basketball, boxing, football, hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, rugby, ultimate frisbee, wrestling.

All participants who can medically tolerate a face covering must wear a face covering when unable to maintain at least 6 feet of distance.

There are additional guidelines for certain sports listed on IDPH’s website. The guidance is subject to change as public health conditions change.

Regions 1, 2, and 5 are moving into Tier 2 on Friday. Region 1 consists of northwestern Illinois, including DeKalb, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties. Region 2 includes counties such as La Salle, Kendall and Bureau. Region 5 consists of far southern Illinois.

“Even though a young person might survive the pandemic better than an older person, a young person can carry the disease to older people that he or she lives with,” Pritzker said Friday. “We want to be careful and avoid more community spread.

“Regions moving to lower tiers, in those lower tiers there are youth sports and recreational sports for adults that are opening up. That’s a good beginning. I would like to see the [COVID-19 case] numbers continue falling.”

Pritzker said it’s up to residents throughout the state, but specifically in each of the state’s 11 health regions, to continue following COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

The IHSA in a statement said low-risk winter sports can begin practice immediately within their geographic region and will begin competition within their geographic region on a future date to be determined by the IHSA Board. Spring and summer sports in regions under Tier 2 mitigation can begin contact days Jan. 25. All IHSA activities remain on pause in regions that are under Tier 3 or Tier 4 mitigations, which includes the majority of the state.

The IHSA’s low-risk winter sports include badminton, boys swimming and diving, cheerleading, dance, boys and girls bowling, and girls gymnastics. There are no medium-risk IHSA sports in the winter, while boys and girls basketball are the lone high-risk winter sports.

“This is certainly positive news for three regions of the state, but we still have a long way to go until we get all of our student-athletes back to being active,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “High school student-athletes are hurting from a mental, physical and emotional standpoint, so we hope this is the first step toward getting that back to some normalcy.”

The IHSA board of directors will meet again Jan. 27, but Anderson anticipates the board will set competition start dates for low-risk winter sports before that meeting.