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Illinois Health Officials Tighten Some Restrictions For Sports; Basketball Moved To High-Risk Category

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health on Tuesday tightened its restrictions for youth and adult recreational sports amid a new statewide surge in the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the major changes is that basketball has been moved from medium risk to high risk, which would likely mean the plan for a high school basketball season to start with practices in less than three weeks would have to be called off.

The new guidance was developed by the Department of Public Health and public health experts, and reflects the high risk of indoor contact sports. It also reflects new research related to COVID-19 in sports, sports-related outbreaks in other states, and the second surge of the pandemic pummeling the state.

"We can't ignore what is happening around us – because without action, this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring." Pritzker said in a news release. "It's with that in mind that today, my administration is releasing our updated guidance for youth and adult recreational sports in Illinois ahead of the winter season."

The updated guidance moves basketball to high risk due to the risks brought about by contact between players and by indoor play.

The Illinois High School Association under previous guidance had planned to begin its season for basketball on Monday, Nov. 16 – less than two weeks from now – and have it run until Feb. 13.

The new guidance also keeps wrestling and hockey in the high-risk category, while cheer and dance remain lower risk only if masking and social distancing are enforced. Low-risk sports such as bowling, gymnastics, swimming, and diving, may be played during the winter.

"As with sports in the fall, nothing is 'cancelled,' just put on hold until we're through the thick of this pandemic. We adapt as we learn. That has been our mantra throughout this pandemic, and as is true in every other facet of life, we know this virus is of most concern when people are indoors with high contact, especially in vigorous situations that bring about heavy breathing – like in wrestling, hockey and basketball," Pritzker said in the news release. "Life in a pandemic is hard for everyone, and it's hard for all of our kids, whether or not they play sports. That doesn't make it any easier – but we really are all in this together."

But in being placed in the high-risk category, basketball may only be played at level 1, with no-contact practices and training being all that is allowed.

In a statement, Illinois High School Association Executive Director Craig Anderson did not specify any decision about a change in the risk level for basketball would mean for high school athletes – only saying in a meeting this past Friday with state public health officials, the organization felt it had presented safe options for high school basketball to go ahead:

"About 15 minutes prior to Governor Pritzker's press conference today, we were alerted that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has elevated the sport of basketball from a medium risk level to a high risk level. We remain considerate of the recent rise in positive COVID-19 cases in our state. However, in our meeting with IDPH on Friday (October 23), 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 who plan to play high school basketball. 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 October 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."

Medium-risk sports can also be played at level 2, in which intra-team scrimmages are allowed with parental consent for minors, but there can be no competitive play. Lower-risk sports can also be played at level 3, in which intra-conference or intra-league play are allowed and state- or league-championship games are allowed.

"The science, as we know it right now, applies in all situations," IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in the release. "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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