Last week, the Governor announced that the Interim Director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) would be issuing an order permitting all sports practices and competitions. The order, which was effective last Thursday morning, applies to youth, collegiate, amateur, club and professional sports and establishes minimum standards with which athletes and teams must comply in order to practice and compete.
The minimum mandatory standards apply to all sports participants: athletes, coaches, volunteers, staff, employees, venues, affiliated teams and schools, and spectators. Sports participants also must comply with any additional health rules for the prevention of COVID-19 that are issued by their governing authorities. If there is a conflict between any part of the ODH order and any guideline of the governing authority, sports participants must comply with the more restrictive of the two.
The order emphasizes many of the same basic requirements that have become familiar over the past several months, including maintaining at least a six-foot social distance from others, washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer when washing isn’t possible, and daily symptom assessment. There are requirements that apply to coaches, players, officials, schools and other organizers, and venues. Some of the minimum mandatory safety requirements that apply to schools, coaches and student athletes include:
- Face coverings: Coaches, trainers, volunteers and officials must wear face coverings at all times. However, in order to be heard when coaching or officiating, coaches and officials are not required to wear face coverings during games and practices. Players must wear face coverings when not on the field of play and may choose to wear them while competing. All exceptions to the face coverings requirements discussed in ODH’s July 23 Order for Facial Coverings apply. Any sports participant not wearing a face covering because of one of the exceptions may be required to provide written justification to the local health officials. Players should be encouraged to wear face coverings while at home to protect family and household members.
- Social distancing during practices, games and tournaments: Participants must maintain six-feet social distancing except when necessary on the field or court of play. Players, coaches and officials should refrain from physical contact, such as team huddles, high-fives, congregating, and greetings. Participants should limit time spent on activities when players are in close proximity for extended periods of time, such as rebounding drills in basketball.
- Equipment and personal items: Equipment and personal items must be separated and should not be shared. If it must be shared, equipment should be properly sanitized between users. Food and drinks, towels and face coverings should never be shared.
- Facilities: Organizers must allow enough time between events to allow one group of participants to exit before the next group enters and to properly sanitize shared spaces and high-touch surfaces. Use of shared spaces, such as locker rooms, must be staggered, and disinfected between uses. For indoor events, ventilation and fans must be operating properly to increase circulation of outdoor air. Facilities must designate a compliance officer responsible for compliance.
- Team travel: Participants traveling by bus must wear face coverings and practice social distancing. Symptom assessments should be conducted immediately prior to departure. The order recommends competing only against teams in the same local area and not traveling outside the local community. Carpools should be limited, and players encouraged to ride only with others in their households.
- Spectators: School should prioritize ticket distribution and event access to sports participants’ family and household members, if possible. The maximum number of individuals gathered in any outdoor venue is 1500 people or 15 percent of the fixed capacity of the facility, whichever is less. The maximum number of individuals gathered in any indoor venue is 300 spectators or 15 percent of the fixed seating capacity, whichever is less. Physical separation must be maintained to allow for six feet of separation between groups. Venues must develop spectator pathways to allow for physical distancing while moving from parking, in box office lines, ticket scanning and security screening to their seats. Spectators must comply with face covering requirements.
- Coaches: Coaches are required to participate in COVID-19 education developed by ODH and to educate their players to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 using ODH-provided resources. If coaches are aware of athletes that have an enhanced risk, such as athletes with asthma or diabetes, adopt extra precautions to protect those athletes.
This is just a brief overview of the twelve-page ODH order. It is recommended that districts consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with the requirements in the order. Any person who violates an ODH Director’s order can be charged with a violation of Ohio Revised Code (RC) 3701.352, a second-degree misdemeanor. A person found guilty of a violation of RC 3701.352 faces a possible penalty of a fine up to $750, up to 90 days in jail, or both.
OSBA’s division of legal services will continue to review the order and provide more information as it becomes available.