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Community Perspective

Tough decisions ahead for Alaska youth sports

With the continuation of organized youth sports threatened, we call on our political leaders and community to act now to change the trajectory of COVID-19 in Alaska.

The role of sports and recreation in the physical and mental health of Alaska youth and all Alaskans is clear. For many, identity has as much to do with the sports and recreation they pursue as with their academic achievement or profession. We have a strong community of organized youth and adult sports, as well as a culture of outdoor pursuits in our amazing back yard. One positive aspect of the pandemic has been Alaskans embracing outdoor time. Trailheads are crazy busy, which is a good thing.

Sports and recreation organizations have been proactive this summer and focused on keeping people active while avoiding larger events and gatherings in the interest of community safety. Social distancing, encouraging wearing masks when not exerting, and good hygiene have been a part of most operating plans. While there have been few known exposures in sports and recreation, they have been dealt with transparently.

The rise in COVID cases since reopening is potentially threatening our ability to have school sports this fall. Alaska School Activities Association has put out a well thought-out document that provides guidelines to restarting sports practices and events. ASAA is using the Department of Health and Human Services alert levels to guide the types of recommended activity and management of athletes and spectators. These are essentially the same alert levels the Anchorage School District is using to determine in-person versus online school, or some sort of hybrid.

This is only a guidance document, but it sets a starting place for school districts to devise a plan. ASAA uses the high risk alert level (10 new cases per 100,000 people per day averaged over 14 days) as the cutoff for no sporting events and a move to outdoor conditioning only with social distancing. While there is wiggle room, it is hard to imagine that when the case rate is worsening, hospitalizations are rising, Anchorage hospital capacity is approaching critical, and contact tracing is overwhelmed that there should be a different cutoff. Teens may be less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19, but unfortunately they seem to have the same ability to transmit the virus as adults.

With the current trend in new cases, the likelihood of in-person school sports beyond outdoor conditioning is decreasing, not only in Anchorage but also in the Kenai Peninsula and possibly in Fairbanks. While Mat-Su, Southeast and much of rural Alaska look OK right now, that could easily change because the state is intertwined and Anchorage health care capacity directly affects all of Alaska. Rural communities are not likely to be excited about sending their teams to a place with more disease or have large groups of visitors.

One strategy that could help is limiting or even eliminating spectators. We have learned that spectators (some of whom are a vulnerable population) sitting in close proximity for extended periods of time are at greater risk to contracting COVID-19 than the athletes on the field making intermittent contact.

Alaska Sports and Recreation COVID-19 Advisory Council is an advisory body to the state and an advocacy and support body for the public. It’s member include the following:

Dr. Andy Elsberg, Anchorage.

Dr. Marc Kornmesser, Anchorage.

Harlow Robinson, Alaska Sports Hall of Fame director, Anchorage.

Billy Strickland, Alaska Schools Activities Association director, Anchorage.

Jo Reid, Anchorage Youth Soccer Club director.

Frank Ostanik, Monroe Catholic High School basketball coach, Fairbanks.

South High School football coach Walter Harmon, Anchorage.

West High School Activities Principal Ja Dorris, Anchorage.

Healthy Futures event coordinator Matias Saari, Anchorage.


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