The Minnesota Department of Health has issued specific guidelines for providing youth sports programs in a safe manner during the pandemic.
The sun is shining, kids have been cooped up since March, and parents are eagerly waiting for cities to announce plans for summer youth sports programs.
Beginning June 1, Phase II of the state’s “Stay Safe MN” Plan begins, allowing organized youth sports, which have been closed since March 26, to open as long as they follow Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The general parameters for youth sports are:
- Practice social distancing.
- Wear face masks when appropriate.
- Encourage norms of health etiquette.
- Promote health checks and screenings of both participants and staff.
- Enforce expectations of staying home when sick.
- Ensure your policies are considerate of individuals who are considered high-risk.
- Routinely disinfect high-touch items.
Beyond the important standard guidelines to stay safe, what is new? There are 10 main parameters in the newest MDH guidelines:
- Create pods. Create consistent “pods” with a maximum of 10 people in each pod. The pod includes staff, volunteers, and participants. It is likely not allowed to have the same staff or volunteers for multiple pods at different times of the day.
- Go outside. Keep practices outdoors as much as possible.
- Tell caregivers to stay home. We all know how much parents love to watch their children’s athletic practices. However, the guidance requires that programs remind parents and caregivers to stay home unless it is necessary for them to be present at practices. Of course, if it is necessary that they attend, it is also necessary that they practice social distancing, and stay at least 6 feet away from people outside their own household.
- Keep it contact-free. If the sport activity is part of child care, school, or a day camp, keep the interactions between the kids contact-free. MDH’s example is to kick a soccer ball back and forth instead of training kids to “steal the ball” from one another, which would cause contact.
- Focus on skills. For organized recreation or club sports, focus on skill development while keeping any “play” between kids in the pod contact-free.
- No games. Games are not allowed under this guidance. Intermixing of pods, even for a quick pickup game, is strictly prohibited. However, contact-free “play” within a pod is permitted.
- Use individual equipment. Discourage sharing equipment between individuals and pods. If sharing must occur, sanitize the equipment between uses.
- No locker rooms. Avoid using locker rooms and facility showers. If they must be used, facility showers without partitions must have signage instructing participants to maintain physical distancing of 6 feet. Turning off or capping alternating shower heads may help promote social distancing.
- Follow these pods-per-field ratios:
- One team/sport per field/rink/court at any time.
- A football or soccer field of about 57,600 square feet may accommodate up to four pods.
- A baseball field of about 40,000 square feet may accommodate up to three pods.
- An ice rink of about 17,000 square feet may accommodate up to two pods.
- A basketball or volleyball court of about 4,700 square feet may accommodate only one pod.
- Comply with federal SafeSports mandates. The U.S. Center for SafeSport provides details for creating a “SafeSport” environment.
Things for cities to consider
Cities need to keep in mind the logistical challenges of following these guidelines. If each staff member may be a part of only one pod, how much would it cost the nine participants to support the program? Should the city make its program an all-day program that features multiple sports or activities?
Other questions to consider:
- Can we afford the cost of the additional sanitizing of equipment?
- How will we conduct daily health screenings of both staff and participants?
- Will the age group of children listen to instructions to avoid contact with their peers?
- Would members of our community be able to afford both participation fees and the cost to provide their own equipment?
- Could we do a drive to collect more athletic equipment to support the higher needs?
Though these guidelines offer hope for your community’s youth sports, they also require cities to get creative. For a start, MDH has created a facility health screening questionnaire cities can use for conducting daily health screenings. Cities could require participants to email, text, or call 30 minutes before practice to confirm their responses.
Another thing to keep in mind is that we do not know when Phase III of the Stay Safe MN Plan begins. The guidance will likely change for Phase III and again for Phase IV. Cities could consider waiting to start summer youth sports programs until July. Begin planning in June with the current guidelines with the intention of making shifts once the new guidance becomes available. When it is released, the new guidance will be available on the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development website.