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Waiting game continues for local athletes

The waiting game continues for several area athletes hoping to begin the winter season.

After the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration provided guidance late last week that county health departments were allowed to decide if school districts could resume high-risk winter sports beginning Feb. 1, area athletes had a rare glimmer of hope.

The high-risk sports, include boys and girls basketball, cheerleading, volleyball, wrestling and ice hockey.

On Friday afternoon, the New York State Department of Health released updated Interim Guidance for Sports and Recreation During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. The guidance stated “Effective February 1, 2021, participants in higher risk sports and recreation activities may partake in individual or distanced group training and organized no/low-contact group training and, further, may partake in other types of play, including competitions and tournaments, only as permitted by the respective local health authorities (i.e., county health departments).”

County health departments were instructed to base their decisions on a number of factors, such as local rates of transmission, ability to monitor and enforce compliance, and whether there has been a more-transmissible variant of coronavirus identified in the area.

However, the majority of county health departments in the Capital and Mohawk Valley regions are requiring the rolling seven-day average of positive COVID-19 tests to be at 4.0 or lower before granting approval to begin winter sports.

“Fulton County will be utilizing the same guidance as the Mohawk Valley, Capital Region and North Country. The local health departments are utilizing the same guidance in an effort to be consistent and fair to all schools,” Fulton County Public Health Director Laurel Headwell said. “More than the 4 percent positivity rate is involved in having a school participate in high-risk sports.”

Through Wednesday, the seven-day average was at 9.1 percent for Fulton County and 8.2 percent for Montgomery County, which has yet to announce its plan.

“School district Board of Education’s need to approve the school participating in the higher risk sports, each school needs a plan, consents from parents need to be signed, etc. This is a comprehensive plan with a goal to allow student athletes to play sports while also keeping them safe,” Headwell said.

The lone county in Section 2 as of Thursday afternoon to approve winter sports as of Thursday afternoon Rensselaer County.

Several counties from around the state also will allow winter sports to begin Monday. As of Thursday afternoon, that group includes Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chatauqua, Chemung, Dutchess, Erie, Essex, Genesee, Lewis, Monroe, Ontario, Onondaga, Orange, Orleans, Oswego, Putnam, Rockland, Schuyler, Steuben, Suffolk, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Westchester and Yates.

In addition to county health departments, several leagues also have been working on plans for the winter season.

The Western Athletic Conference, which includes area schools Northville, Mayfield, Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville, Fonda-Fultonville, Canajoharie and Fort Plain, released the following statement Wednesday about high risk winter sports.

“The Western Athletic Conference is developing a plan for the implementation of high risk winter sports (basketball, wrestling and cheerleading) with an anticipated start date of Feb. 1,” the statement said. “Our goal is to provide a safe, positive and meaningful interscholastic athletic experience for our students. We are working in consultation with our local county health departments to ensure the health and safety of our students, coaches, staff, officials and school communities. We appreciate the time our health departments are directing towards interscholastic athletics during these trying circumstances.

“As has become the norm with this pandemic, this situation is very fluid and ever changing,” the statement continues. “We will share an update on an official start date as more information becomes available and necessary approvals have been granted. Please continue to be patient, but ready to begin the season quickly if approval has been given. Thank you for your continued support during this most challenging time.”

On Wednesday, Glens Falls – a member of the Foothills Council along with Johnstown, Gloversville, Broadalbin-Perth and Amsterdam – announced its boys swimming, bowling, nordic skiing and alpine skiing will not return to practices or competitions. Their seasons have come to an end. In addition, the boys and girls basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and cheerleading teams will not start this year, even if Warren County Public Health officials decide to allow winter sports.

High school winter sports deemed “high-risk” have been on hold since a December announcement from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

Winter state championships have already been canceled by the NYSPHSAA.

Earlier this week, Section 2 announced a revised season schedule.

Winter Season: End Date will now be March 13, 2021 (Previously 2/28/21)

Fall 2 Season: March 7, 2021 – May 1, 2021

Spring Season: May 2, 2021 – June 25, 2021

(Baseball Only will begin on April 28, 2021 due to the 10 required practice rule)

Section 2 also is limiting all competitions to within the league, section or contiguous region or section. It also recommended that schools should not be traveling or hosting opponents from out-of-state. Section 2 also advised that schools should not be participating in events where out-of-state student-athletes are participating.

Section 3

In Herkimer County, which is home to Dolgeville, the schools and public health officials have developed a framework for how higher-risk sports such as basketball, volleyball, wrestling and competitive cheerleading could take place if local COVID-19 positivity rates decrease for an extended period of time.

Herkimer County school superintendents and the Herkimer County Department of Public Health established the following guidelines:

Districts could decide to schedule higher-risk sports seasons if Herkimer County’s positivity rate drops below 3 percent and remains below 3 percent over a 14-day rolling average for 14 days.

If the sports season does begin, but the rate goes above 3.5 percent on a 14-day rolling average, sports would be paused.

As of Thursday, Herkimer County’s 14-day rolling average was 8.6 percent, more than double the 3.5 percent threshold.

This framework, based on the thresholds the state established for the Yellow Zone Micro-Cluster, is aimed at ensuring districts can maintain the safe environment that has been developed within schools. School officials hope that positivity rates decrease and higher-risk sports can take place safely, but there are significant considerations when allowing students to gather and mingle for athletic contests that include close contact.

School officials in the region would like to thank their school communities for their patience and understanding during this process of monitoring and assessing the safety considerations involved with school sports.

Schools involved with this plan are the Town of Webb and the 10 Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES component districts: Central Valley, Dolgeville, Frankfort-Schuyler, Herkimer, Little Falls, Mount Markham, Owen D. Young, Poland, Richfield Springs and West Canada Valley.

“We are hopeful that our COVID cases continue to trend downward to a point where we can resume higher-risk sports in the near future,” said Central Valley Superintendent Jeremy Rich in a news release. “We have worked hard to keep our buildings safe and we know that these sports come with higher risk. We need to do this right or we risk spreading COVID among our athletes, to other students and staff in our district, and to athletes and staff in the schools we compete against. The cost of a mistake would be high, so we’re going to adhere closely to the Herkimer County Public Health’s guidance.”

The governor’s announcement does not affect spring sports such baseball, softball, tennis, and track and field. It also does not change any ongoing low- or moderate-risk sports seasons, such as bowling, alpine skiing, nordic skiing or swimming.

Athletic directors are meeting to develop “Sports Reopening Plans” that will be reviewed by the Herkimer County Department of Public Health. Districts in Herkimer County will continue to monitor the positivity rate in the county, and remain hopeful that rates will continue to go down in such a way as to allow the maximum number of sports seasons to be scheduled.

More information about the winter and spring sports seasons can be found by downloading the New York State Public High School Athletics Association’s resource document using this link: http://nysphsaa.org/Portals/0/COVID%2019/2021%20January%20-%20Return%20To%20Interscholastic%20Athletics.pdf.

COVID-19

Positivity Rates

as of Wednesday

Capital Region

County 7-day average

Albany 6.9

Columbia 6.9

Greene 6.8

Rensselaer 5.7

Saratoga 6.0

Schenectady 4.9

Warren 4.7

Washington 4.7

Mohawk Valley

County 7-day average

Fulton 9.1

Herkimer 8.3

Montgomery 8.2

Oneida 4.4

Otsego 4.0

Schoharie 7.9

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