Governor’s ‘Freeze’ Halts Youth Sports, Surprising Parents

After announcing new coronavirus measures last week that specifically exempted youth sports, the Oregon Health Authority apparently altered course with new guidelines unveiled Wednesday, prohibiting all indoor competition, practice and conditioning — including weight training.

Competition, training and conditioning is still allowed for outdoor sports, as long as they forego any full-contact activities and follow the other athletics guidelines from the OHA.

In the initial “freeze” guidelines announced last Friday, Governor Kate Brown said “outdoor recreation and sports, youth programs” and “K-12 sports” would be allowed to continue unaffected. But OHA reversed course when its more specific guidance was released this week.

The sudden about-face frustrated some student-athletes and parents — who said they were caught off-guard.

“The last-minute change sent parents scrambling for answers and solutions,” said a Nov. 18 press release from ED300, a statewide coalition of parents pushing for a safe return to in-person learning by January.

“Just last week, the governor said that youth programs and k-12 sports that are currently allowed would remain open. Now, under guidance released from OHA just today, many of those programs are closed.”

The closure of indoor recreational facilities, along with the continued shuttering of most schools across the state, leaves few options for “exercise and safe social interaction as we face the darkest, rainiest, and coldest part of the year,” said Rene Gonzalez, spokesman for ED300 and Opening PDX Schools.

“We are leaving children with almost no safe outlets,” Gonzalez said. “This is dangerous for our older children and damaging for all children at a time when they are otherwise deprived of most in-person, school-related contact and activities.”

For many kids, school-sponsored athletic activities are their “only outlet for physical exertion and release of stress,” according to Jennifer Dale, a Clackamas County mother of three, including a daughter with special needs.

“Many parents, including essential workers, rely on sports and youth activities as a source of care for their children while attending to work,” Dale said.

Indoor sports facilities and gyms have worked throughout the summer to adopt safety measures that include distancing and mask requirements, the group said, reducing occupancy, improving ventilation systems, and developing strict protocols to keep patrons safe and healthy.

There is little evidence that athletic events or the uses of indoor recreational facilities are hot spots for coronavirus spread, according to Rick Dyer, spokesman for the grassroots group Let Them Play.

“These activities have been taking place in our state using all safety and hygiene protocols and under the strict supervision of coaches and school personnel for several months,” he said. “They have been taking place on a full-contact basis nearly nationwide for even longer.

“Data has shown that very little viral transmission occurs during gameplay of any kind in any of these venues.”

Likewise, the risk of serious illness affecting young, healthy teens appears to be extremely small, while the prolonged lockdown could have “unintended impacts on children,” the parents say.

“We’ve got to do better,” Dale said. “We owe it to our children to do better. Their total health — mental and physical — needs to be prioritized. These measures may force kids into unsafe and uncontrolled environments because all the structured and controlled ones are closed.”

The new restrictions come amid a dizzying and unprecedented surge in new cases of the novel coronavirus for Oregon. OHA reported 6,491 new cases during the week ending Sunday, Nov. 15 — a 25% increase more than the previous record, set one week earlier.

Weekly hospitalizations from Covid-19 rose to 291, the highest yet reported in the pandemic. However, there were fewer deaths (31) linked to the virus than the previous week’s record high of 42.

People age 20 to 49 accounted for 51% of the cases, while people 70 and older accounted for 75% of deaths.

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