Nassau County Executive Laura Curran unveiled a plan on Wednesday that will allow public and parochial schools in the county to play high-risk sports. At a news conference at Bay Park in East Rockaway, she described guidance from the Nassau Department of Health that matches closely to the measures outlined by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration, but allows individual school districts to add further safety protocols.
The Nassau plan differs from the Suffolk plan unveiled on Monday in that it does not include mandatory testing for student-athletes and coaches in the high-risk sports. However, some school districts are taking measures to get the tests to conduct them. Another big difference is that Nassau will allow spectators at school districts that want them: two per athlete but not to exceed 50% capacity at a playing venue.
With this guidance in place, Nassau high schools will be able to participate in the winter sports deemed high risk for coronavirus transmission by the Cuomo administration: boys and girls basketball, wrestling and competitive cheerleading. Practice and play is permitted to begin Feb. 1.
The county will do spot checks at events and respond to complaints filed about regulations not being followed.
"I feel very passionate about this," Curran said. "I think the more we can have a normal life for our children, the better off we are. While some sports were considered low risk and allowed, many student-athletes had to sit out their seasons: We're talking about football, basketball, cheerleading, ice hockey [and] lacrosse, for instance. I'm excited to get our kids back on the fields, and the courts and the rinks that they love so much and to bring a little normal back into their lives."
The Nassau plan includes many of the standard protocols that are used in the low-and-moderate risk sports: masks when tolerated on competing athletes, masks and social distancing on sidelines, temperature checks, minimizing shared equipment and proper disinfecting of that equipment.
"We’re not looking to overly complicate this," Curran said. "The state guidance is thorough, it's complete, and we feel it will do the job. We will make sure all districts have the guidance . . . and interpret it if they have questions.
"Nassau residents have proven that they can be nimble, especially our school districts . . . I have to tell you: I trust our school districts."
Each of the public school districts will decide whether to field teams in the high-risk winter sports. Curran emphasized that no schools are required to participate.
Health commissioner Dr. Larry Eisenstein was asked about testing and replied, "The state guidance does not have a required testing component."
"We spoke with the various school districts, we looked at the different opinions. I got very differing views depending on which school district you ask," he added. "Some feel that they are going to put in a testing component and that's fine. Others felt that if they're going to do just sports, then what about the chorus? What about the drama? Some felt it's got to be an all-or-nothing thing . . . We won’t have any objections to extra safety components."
"I’ll be honest. I’m concerned about wrestling," said Pat Pizzarelli, the executive director for Section VIII, the governing body for public school sports in Nassau. "You are going to be in close contact when you’re wrestling an opponent, but I’ve stressed to our athletic administrators just yesterday that they need to stress to their coaches they need to be diligent to keep the safety of our student-athletes as the No. 1 priority."
Curran took it a step further by imploring the athletes and their families to avoid risky situations where the virus could be transmitted.
"Schools cannot control what happens after," she said. " Now we know there are certain rituals: [After] the victory, the team does social activities and, unfortunately [those] can involve alcohol. So we're really asking parents to be very vigilant and careful here because . . . we wouldn't want an outbreak to happen at an after-game party for instance, because you know what's going to happen: If COVID spreads then the sport shuts down.
"I'm just going to ask people: ‘Let's not blow it.’ "