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Coronavirus and Youth Sports

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During this difficult time, the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program is collecting information on how the outbreak is impacting youth sports, a focus of our Project Play initiative that helps build healthy communities through sports. We aim to help parents, coaches, administrators, educators and others in the youth sports ecosystem respond to challenges presented by a virus that has major public health implications.

We are developing new types of content to respond to the situation. This page will be updated regularly with information gathered through public communication by sports organizations and direct outreach to leaders in our Project Play network. We are launching a new series of weekly reports and newsletters and developing webinar content for parents, coaches, and leaders.

SHOULD YOUTH PLAY SPORTS DURING THE OUTBREAK?

The answer is for now, in most settings, no.

On March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged ending gatherings of more than 50 people through May 10 to stop the spread of the virus. President Donald Trump has since recommended gatherings should be limited to 10 people through at least March 31. Many states are closing schools, bars, restaurants, gyms and other gathering spots.  

In its coronavirus materials, the CDC offers guidance for school settings and community and faith leaders but nothing specifically for sports settings. However, the CDC says that the virus gets spread most frequently among close contacts within about 6 feet — distance that is hard to create in team and some individual sports. Transmission of the virus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through contact with contaminated surfaces.

In areas where the risk of transmission is high, the CDC recommends the cancellation of community gatherings of any size. So far, coronavirus cases have been found in nearly every state, and at least 20 states and Washington D.C. have issued a state of emergency. The coming weeks are critical in limiting the spread of the virus, which is highly contagious. 

On March 13, Sports Illustrated published a Q&A with two doctors on what types of sports activity might be acceptable to participate in. But note: That was before a national emergency was declared by the federal government. The gravity of the crisis, and the importance of social distancing, has only grown since then.   

“I absolutely urge all youth sports programs to take a temporary pause for at least two weeks and then reevaluate the situation,” said Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, a sports medicine physician at Emory University who was an adviser on our Healthy Sport Index. “It is so critical to play each of our parts in our efforts to contain this deadly virus.” 

Children appear to be less likely than adults to suffer severe complications from the coronavirus, according to the CDC, though it remains unclear whether those with underlying conditions are at elevated risk. The greater concern, said Dr. Andrew Stolbach, an emergency physician and faculty member at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is that youth will become a carrier for the virus and pass it on to their parents or grandparents.

“We don’t need organized sports now,” said Stolbach, who coaches his son’s wrestling team, which canceled its final state tournament for the weekend of March 14. “This is especially true if you take a bunch of kids to a travel tournament and they stay at hotels. Now we’re just mixing a lot of people again, when what we’re trying to do is slow the trajectory of the virus. Also, hospitals may eventually need auxiliary spaces for patients such as hotel rooms.”