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Coronavirus In Ohio: Sports Allowed This Fall But Without Most Spectators

Gov. Mike DeWine gives his daily coronavirus briefing on April 1, 2020.
Office of Gov. Mike DeWine

Gov. Mike DeWine said that Ohio will allow all sports, including contact sports, to be held this fall, but with limited spectators.

"I hope the desire to have a season will inspire our young people, our athletes, our student athletes, 24-7 to be as careful as they can," DeWine said at his press conference Tuesday.

DeWine said the Ohio Department of Health will issue a public health order this week with guidance on allowing sports "as safely as they can be played in the era of COVID-19." The activities will be allowed to resume starting August 28.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and DeWine said the state will monitor competitions and hold districts accountable if they violate rules, and possibly revise or reverse health guidelines based on how the pandemic progresses.

"If it doesn't work, schools are going to know that pretty quick," DeWine warned. "Coaches are going to know that pretty quick."

The order will not, however, require that athletes be tested before games, due to concerns about resources.

Ohio's order covers not only high school athletics, under the umbrella of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, but also any other sport leagues or conferences across the state.

Under the order, DeWine says spectators will not be allowed at games or practices, other than family members or people "very close to that particular child." Other competitions such as marching band, drill teams or cheer teams will be under the same rules.

"The focus should be on young people, letting them play," DeWine said. "It's also important, I believe, that young person have someone there if possible to support them."

Whether or not a school decides to bring back sports, however, will be up to the individual district, including if schools want to push activities to the spring. On the college level, both the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced last week they would postpone sports seasons, including football, until 2021.

Columbus City Schools, the largest district in Ohio, canceled school sports and extracurriculars last Friday after moving all K-12 classes online.

“I believe as the CEO that this best for my students and our community," said Columbus superintendent Talisa Dixon last week. "And then as we continue to get advice and we see a decrease in the number of cases, then we would go back and we would make some adjustments to those decisions.”

Dr. James Borchers, a former Ohio State football player and sports medicine doctor at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, spoke at Tuesday's press conference on the effect of COVID-19 on athletes. He says the safety of sports is dependent on how well the larger community is doing.

"What we've learned is that the health of the community around our athletes is at the utmost importance to our athletes being able to complete," Borchers says.

Both Borchers and DeWine emphasized that sports are critical for mental health and wellbeing, and provide a important structure for many young people. But they added that such activities, especially contact sports, do increase the risk of COVID-19 - and that children and young adults can in fact spread the disease.

"The more spread there is in a community, the more spread there is going to be in the school, and the higher risk there is going to be to the students and certainly to the athletes as well," DeWine said.

On Tuesday, Ohio reported an increase of 861 new COVID-19 cases and 39 more deaths in the last day. That brings the cumulative number of cases to 109,923 and deaths to 3,871.

The state also reported 117 more hospitalizations and 19 more ICU admissions in the last day.

Husted, who has been one of the loudest voices advocating for high school sports this fall, said he hopes the announcement is "extra incentive" for parents, students and larger communities.

"We all want you to be successful and healthy, and we're excited for the opportunity you have to do this the right way," Husted said.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced earlier this month it will allow all football teams to enter the playoffs beginning October 9.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.