Schenectady County unlikely to allow ‘high’ risk sports to start Monday
The potential start date for the much-delayed “high” risk high school winter sports season to begin is Monday, but only one of the greater Capital Region’s counties appears to have given permission for such activities to start.
Rensselaer County was the lone county voice to give approval Thursday, while Schenectady County joined Albany and Warren Counties in holding off the start of boys’ and girls’ basketball, ice hockey and wrestling until the respective county’s seven-day novel coronavirus positivity rate drops to 4% or lower.
Schoharie County administrator Steve Wilson said a public announcement is planned Friday afternoon. Montgomery and Fulton county officials said an announcement would not be available until next week, while Saratoga County had not issued a decision as of Thursday evening.
The Schenectady County guidelines aligned with what Albany County established Wednesday. Key among them is that the positivity rate needs to be at 4% or lower, and Schenectady County’s most-recent average was at 4.9%.
“This guidance was created with the input of over a dozen local county health departments for a more regional approach to sports that often cross county borders,” Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman said in a press release. “While there is no way to eliminate all risk of COVID-19 transmission, the guidance provided is a roadmap schools can follow to develop and implement their own comprehensive sport-specific preparedness plans, with public health oversight.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave state approval for “high” risk sports to begin last Friday, but each county also needed to approve such activities beginning.
“It’s heartbreaking [for the student-athletes],” Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton said Thursday of this week’s developments that appear to delay action for most of the region’s “high” risk athletes even further. “It was, ‘Hey, get your paperwork in,’ and they’re getting all excited. Then, it’s we’re not starting Monday.”
He did not hold out much hope that Schenectady County would meet the criteria needed to play within the remainder of the winter sports season, which extends through March 13.
“I’d be surprised if we got to 4% in time for the winter season,” Boynton said. “I’m not saying winter is dead in the water, but this makes it a bigger possibility.”
As the greater Capital Region has only one county permitting “high” risk sports to start Monday, sports administrators are watching other sections give their respective permissions.
“Buffalo is playing. Syracuse just got approval. Westchester County and downstate — what is so different about our kids?” Mekeel Christian Academy Head of School and boys’ basketball coach Chad Bowman said. “It’s frustrating to not be able to provide great answers. . . . I believe there’s a lot of evidence to support that it can be done safely.”
In Rensselaer County’s approval on Thursday, that county’s guidance does not include the weekly positivity rate guidance.
“We believe scholastic sports are a necessary component of a child’s development and education experience and should be returned next month,” Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin stated in a press release published Thursday afternoon.
“We further believe that sports can and should be returned if common-sense and competency are used.”
Cuomo’s announcement last Friday created a short timeline for counties to reach a decision.
“We’re meeting with the superintendents tomorrow to review their plans and have discussions about the various particulars,” Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said. “It’s quite a large issue to have to tackle in a short period of time.
“I’ll be talking about exactly where we’re at at our briefing on Monday.”
As the clock ticks, it diminishes the hopes of Amsterdam athletic director Steve Nolan.
“I’m pretty confident [Montgomery County is] going to be the same as Fulton County, and Warren County and some of the others with a rolling average of less than 4%,” Nolan said. “That’s what I would expect.”
Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead did not expect an announcement this week.
“I know there has been a pretty good-sized effort throughout Section II, but I don’t think everybody was able to work on that fast enough . . . to make a decision for Monday,” Stead said. “My understanding is that we’re still in that evaluation stage and the public health director is working her way through that process.”
Warren County Health Services announced Thursday that it is setting up a framework to potentially allow “higher risk” sports to resume if certain COVID-19 metrics can be met, joining other local counties utilizing a 4% or lower benchmark.
“In light of the recent holiday-related surge of COVID cases, those metrics are not likely to be met as of February 1,” Warren County stated in a press release.
On Wednesday, Washington County denied the start of “high” risk sports in a press release and did not issue guidance for when those sports could begin competition.
Rensselaer County is one of more than two dozen counties in New York State to give permission for “high” risk sports to resume Monday.
Staff writer Jim Schiltz contributed to this report.