Two outdoor basketball games. 12 participants in quarantine. Three students test positive.
The pick-up games in question were on Monday, Aug. 24 and Wednesday, Aug. 26. Taking place at Tony Williams Park in Highland, NY, they caused SUNY New Paltz to get their first cases of COVID-19 for the fall 2020 semester.
The 12 students involved were tested and put in quarantine. Although the students in question weren’t wearing masks, they also weren’t breaking any NYS guidelines. So the question remains, what went wrong? Are outdoor sports still unsafe?
On Aug. 15, Gov. Cuomo released his interim guidance for sports and recreation. He classified sports into three categories based on ability of COVID-19 transmission: lower risk, moderate risk and higher risk. Basketball was placed in the higher risk category due to the difficulty the participant would have in maintaining physical distance and avoiding shared equipment.
Guidelines state that participants must limit their occupancy to 50% of the maximum in an outdoor space or less. They must also keep a distance of six feet and “individuals must wear acceptable face coverings, unless players are unable to tolerate a face covering for the physical activity (e.g. practicing, playing.)”
Basketball is a contact sport and the traditional rules and regulations of games and practices likely need to be changed this year to keep players safe. Teams at New Paltz with high contact sports have already started to change their routine to prioritize safety.
Second-year Ryan Scully is an attacker for the New Paltz lacrosse team. He said he has focused on building solo skill so he doesn’t have to get close to others when practicing.
“I have been trying to work on my outside shooting, as well as my one-on-one offense,” Scully said.
For the times he’s practiced with his roommates, they have done so with a mask on.
“The masks make it pretty difficult to breathe, but I think it should be pretty easy to get used to overtime,” Scully said.
Scully said he feels everyone should use them until it is safe to not. He also added he thinks they are doing a good job at containing the spread, and hopes to be able to get out and play this year.
Dr. Jack Ordway, director of Student Health Services at SUNY New Paltz, said he has not seen a rise in students coming into health services concerned about possible exposure due to outdoor sports, but ackloweged that playing games in close contact with heavy breathing could lead to exposure of COVID-19.
“The majority of students are doing the right thing,” Ordway said. “[Students] on the track are doing the right thing and distancing. Some skateboarders will congregate but most of the people are trying to be careful.” Ordway also added that he appreciates students who are trying to be careful, and wants to commend them.
Another example of a New Paltz sport that finds ways to adapt to the new normal is equestrian. Second-year team member Abby Artz is looking forward to her riding lessons starting up again soon. She said she is not sure what the safety guidelines will be yet and does not know if she will need to wear a mask while on the horse.
“With equestrian, it’s very easy to social distance,” she said. “You always need to be a horse length away from those next to you or in front of you to ensure safety. Horses like to kick, and we don’t want any injuries.”
Even though equestrian can be practiced for recreational purposes, it was not included in the Aug 15. guidelines, making it difficult for coaches to plan properly and for participants to know if they can practice safely. Although, all things considered, equestrian is an example of a sport that can adapt nicely to prevent a repeat of the basketball scenario.
Ordway said the guidelines in place are making things more relaxed and closer to the old normal.
“If we start to see more cases like we had in March and April, we will say ‘you can’t do [the sport]’ but the rates have been looking okay so we have to start loosening the reins, and it’s reasonable to start here,” Ordway said. “With athletic activities, it’s tough to know if they got exposed on the court or at social activities that happened afterwards … like eating inside.”
Although athletics can draw people together to social events, students need to remember to be safe on and off the courts. Overall, it seems that outdoor recreational sports can be safe for students as long as they continue to follow the rules and regulations at all times.
“On campus we have fewer students and decreased density so we have a good chance at being okay. We need to be vigilant and relax things a little bit at a time,” Ordway said.