As high school sports debate continues, Levine stands firm, Republicans plan legislation

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Monday, August 10, 2020 | 8:09 PM


State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine stood firm Monday on delaying youth sports until next year, and two state legislators announced plans to join the debate over high school athletics.

Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Levine defended the recommendation issued last week by Gov. Tom Wolf to delay interscholastic and recreation sports until at least Jan. 1.

“I understand, being a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist, how important sports can be for kids,” Levine said. “How important in terms of their mental health, their physical health and for some in terms of opportunities for college, but given the size and scope of this global pandemic, we, as well as many other states … are going to say it’s not worth the risk to do sports this fall given covid-19.”

Two lawmakers, including one from Westmoreland County, scheduled a press conference Tuesday to announce legislation connected to high school athletics.

A bill from state Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland/Somerset, “would allow Pennsylvania’s local school districts to make decisions regarding fall sports and activities,” according to an announcement by the House Republican Caucus.

Separate legislation by state Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, “will allow students and families to have the option to continue their education and extracurricular activities for an additional year to make up for the loss of instruction and competition during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.”

The two scheduled an 11:30 a.m. announcement in Harrisburg.

Spring sports were canceled earlier this year when Wolf closed schools, and now fall sports are in question after the governor last week issued what was called a “strong recommendation” by the departments of health and education.

In response, the PIAA board voted Friday to push back the start of fall sports by two weeks. The board wanted time to further discuss the recommendation with Wolf’s administration and state legislators with hopes of saving fall sports.

Heat acclimatization for football was originally scheduled to start Monday but now begins Aug. 24, alongside the first practices for all other fall sports.

Levine was asked Monday about the data used to make the recommendation to delay youth sports.

Allegheny County Health Department numbers have ranked sports low among activities causing covid-19 spread, according to contract tracing. In data from July 19-25, ACHD statistics included one covid-19 case in a person who reported participating in sports.

Levine pointed instead to the number and severity of adolescents infected nationwide, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics.

“There really isn’t a lot of granular data on school sports since school hasn’t started and school sports haven’t started,” she said. “What we have seen from other states — and has been nationally reported over the last number of weeks — is the number of pediatric cases that is being seen.”

She specifically mentioned widespread transmission at a youth camp in Georgia.

“Even though many of those sports are outside, many of the sports are going to involve a lot of personal contact,” Levine said. “Not only football, but especially football, where social distance is not going to be possible.”

The other PIAA fall sports are cross country, golf, soccer, field hockey, girls tennis, girls volleyball and water polo.

The PIAA board reconvenes Aug. 21.

“We wanted to give kids the best chance to stay healthy, and counties and kids the best chance to actually have a full in-person education,” Levine said. “Like many other states … (we) are saying that it’s just not safe, given what we’re anticipating in the fall, for children to be in sports.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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