As the Big Ten prepares to start a fall football season, Gov. JB Pritzker said the time still isn’t right for high school football games to be played because of the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Pritzker further dug in on his position to delay some high school sports until spring ahead of planned weekend rallies to press for the regular high school sports seasons to be played this fall. Rallies are planned for Chicago and Springfield.
At a Chicago briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Pritzker said that while some professional and college sports have gone on during the pandemic, both are taking precautions that are beyond the means of most high schools to implement. They included frequent (sometimes daily) testing of athletes, robust sanitizing procedures and in some cases isolation of athletes.
Despite those precautions, Pritzker said, there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 on both professional and collegiate teams.
"I’m not a scientist, but I do know how to listen to the experts and follow the latest data," Pritzker said. "Under no circumstances will I put children and their families at risk. I want out kids back on the playing field or on the ice as much as anyone. And we’ll get there when the doctors say it is safe," he said."
Dr. Michael Lin, an infectious disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center, said COVID-19 is spread through person-to-person contact which makes sports like football and hockey potentially super spreader events.
It isn’t just activities on the field that can spread the virus, he said. Close contact in locker rooms, gyms and while traveling as a team to games can also "provide a perfect storm of conditions to enable the virus to spread quickly."
"Prevention steps such as postponing contact sports, as hard as it may seem on our children, will reduce infections and save lives," he said. "Youth sports do not operate in a vacuum and if COVID-19 spreads among our young athletes, it becomes a risk for an entire community."
Pritzker said there have been outbreaks of the coronavirus in Illinois that have been linked to youth sports activities. He cited dozens of cases in Wayne County that public health officials there said were linked to the baseball team at Frontier Community College.
The governor acknowledged that high school sports have been allowed to proceed in other states. However, he said Illinois has a far lower positivity rate than those states which he attributed to stricter mitigation efforts in force here.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said Wednesday there were 1,941 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the state, bringing the total to 266,151. The statewide positivity rate is 3.7 percent.
There were also 35 additional deaths from the virus, bringing that total to 8,367.
Also Wednesday, Pritzker announced another 30 day extension on the moratorium against evicting tenants who have been unable to keep up rent payments because of the pandemic.
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