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Illinois' Top Health Official Says There's No Plan to Change School Sports Guidance

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Illinois' top public health official said Tuesday there is no plan to change guidance surrounding school sports, despite rumors that such restrictions may be changing.

"There is higher risk of infection transmission associated with high contact sports. That premise has not changed," Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a statement. "There are no plans to amend public health related sports guidance and persistent rumors claiming otherwise makes a challenging time more difficult by giving affected student athletes false hope."

In July, the IHSA announced its plan for the 2020-21 school year, moving some fall sports to the spring and allowing others to continue as planned with restrictions.

Cross country, girls golf, girls swimming and girls tennis were deemed "low-risk" and have been allowed to continue. But that's not the case for other sports like volleyball, soccer and football.

"School sports seasons have been rearranged - so that those higher risk sports can be played this spring while lower risk sports are played this fall," Ezike said in her statement. "We have been open and transparent with the public during every step of our pandemic response and we will continue to do so."

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office has repeatedly said that no changes will be made to the current plan for high school sports, saying the governor is following science, but some doctors believe there should be more conversation on the matter.

The executive director for the Illinois High School Association, Craig Anderson, has pressed the governor to bring fall sports back to students, saying it would be in the best interest of the students.

"For the health and safety, emotion and physical well being of students, we think it's time to engage students with their high school in practice and competition to get them back to some normalcy."

Anderson sent a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz last week, saying it had been "greatly misconstrued on social media in a short amount of time."

In a statement to clarify the letter's intent, Anderson said the letter, sent with support from the association's board of directors, sought "permission for the IHSA and its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to resume control over determining the resumption of IHSA sports and activities."

An adviser of Pritzker, Dr. Emily Landon, said changes will not be made to the current plan because the number of close contacts for people in Illinois must stay minimal, not more than about five people.

"Everybody wants to get back to life," said Landon, executive medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at the University of Chicago Medicine. "The reality is that we just don't know what the long term consequences of having COVID are."

Parents, supporters and many student-athletes have held rallies in recent weeks calling for IHSA to let them participate in fall sports and return to the classroom. Several parents called on public school districts to give students the choice of playing fall sports.

"I think there should be options," Leah Iaquinta said. "If you have an autoimmune disorder, stay home, options for those who can take the risk."

Despite increasing pressure from parents and student-athletes to allow fall sports to commence in the state of Illinois, Pritzker has stood firm that he will not sign off on allowing sports like football to start now.

Pritzker said that he is continuing to listen to “doctors and researchers,” and said that the choices of other states will not impact his decision.

“I’m not willing to sacrifice people’s lives or their health,” Pritzker said. “Neither the children nor their parents who would be affected also. I’m relying on doctors and researchers to give us the information. This isn’t a political decision.”

The Illinois High School Association announced its plan for the 2020-21 school year Wednesday, moving some fall sports to the spring and allowing others to continue as planned with restrictions. Sandra Torres has details.

During its regularly-scheduled meeting, IHSA waived in-season limits on games for winter, spring and summer sports, while also moving up the start of the summer sports season by two weeks.

According to an IHSA press release, the limit on games per week, instituted due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, was lifted, meaning that schools will be able to schedule more than two games per week during upcoming sports seasons.

“We have preached that this school year will be fluid, and the changes made by the board today are a good example of that,” Anderson said in a statement. “Given how well our state is handling the pandemic, and the lack of setbacks in the fall sports we have conducted so far, there was a consensus that we could move forward with allowing schools to schedule winter, spring and summer sports without further restrictions.”

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