IDPH, Gov. Pritzker move basketball to higher risk category, puts winter season 'on hold'

Dance and cheer each moved to lower risk

Cary-Grove guard Beau Frericks (2) recovers a loose all in the fourth quarter of the Lake Zurich Martin Luther King Classic championship game at Lake Zurich High School on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Lake Zurich, Ill. Cary-Grove won, 66-65.
Cary-Grove guard Beau Frericks (2) recovers a loose all in the fourth quarter of the Lake Zurich Martin Luther King Classic championship game at Lake Zurich High School on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Lake Zurich, Ill. Cary-Grove won, 66-65.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Tuesday they were moving basketball to the "higher risk" category and putting the high school season "on hold."

As part of the modified sports plan adopted by the IHSA in late July, practices for the winter sports season were tentatively scheduled to begin Nov. 16 with the modified season running through Feb 13.

"As with sports in the fall, nothing is ‘canceled,’ just put on hold until we’re through the thick of this pandemic," Pritzker said in a statement.

The IHSA's Board of Directors was expected to vote on a winter sports plan at Wednesday's meeting.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said the IHSA received the news "about 15 minutes prior" to Pritzker's 2:30 p.m. news conference.

"We remain considerate of the recent rise in positive COVID-19 cases in our state. However, in our meeting with IDPH on Friday, we felt that we presented multiple options that would allow for basketball to be conducted safely by IHSA schools this winter, many of which are being utilized in neighboring states [that] plan to play high school basketball," Anderson said.

"Despite that setback, there is some positive news, as IDPH accepted the IHSA’s mitigations related to other sports, including cheerleading and dance, allowing them to move from a medium-risk level to a low-risk level. We will hold our special Board of Directors meeting on Oct. 28 as scheduled, where our Board will provide direction on the other winter sports, as well as discuss the IHSA sports schedule for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.”

The IDPH's sports safety guidelines classify sports into three risk categories: lower, medium and higher.

Until Tuesday's updated guidance, basketball was classified as medium risk. The IHSA was hoping to get the green light to proceed with basketball as scheduled, or at least tentatively scheduled.

Other winter sports, including wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer, previously were classified as higher risk.

In the updated guidance, dance and cheer have been moved to lower risk. Swimming, bowling and gymnastics also remain in the lower-risk category.

The IDPH on Tuesday released a two-page document titled "Science Behind Winter Sports Guidelines," which stated, "IDPH assessed the risk for SARS-CoV-2 transmission associated with basketball according to the evidence-based framework and finds the sport to be higher risk.

"Basketball is played indoors (higher risk) with frequent close contacts to other players (higher risk), which includes 10 on the court and often just as many on both benches (higher risk), a single piece of shared equipment that is difficult to clean during the game (higher risk), and an intensity level that makes masking more difficult (higher risk)."

During Tuesday's news conference, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike pointed to the state's recent spike in coronavirus cases as reason for concern.

Illinois confirmed 4,000 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. The state's seven-day rolling positivity rate increased to 6.4%. The 2,758 COVID-19 patients in the hospital are the most since June 4.

“The science, as we know it right now, applies in all situations,” Ezike said. “The more people you are in contact with, the longer you are together, and the closer you are together, the greater your risk of getting COVID-19. Being face to face with another person for a basketball or football game puts players at higher risk of getting and spreading the virus. Right now, cases across Illinois and the country are increasing.”

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