High school football teams in New Orleans can start holding full-contact practices and begin gearing up for October’s first weekend of games as long as they adhere to the city’s health and safety standards, New Orleans Health Department Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno announced Monday.
While the rest of the state progressed to Phase 3 of reopening earlier this month, New Orleans is still in Phase 2, which until today did not allow for contact sports.
“Given where we are now, the physical and mental health benefits outweigh the risks,” Avegno said.
New Orleans health data continues to suggest that community transmission of the coronavirus is under control. The city’s daily number of positive COVID-19 cases has been consistently low despite the return of tens of thousands of college students.
Avegno said resuming contact sports will provide positive health benefits for players and fans by allowing them to “do something that feels normal.” At the same time, she cautioned that these activities still carry significant risks and that following safety restrictions is essential.
The decision, which applies to all contact sports, was made in partnership with the New Orleans Recreation Development (NORD) Commission and a newly formed task force consisting of representatives from the city’s public and private schools.
NORD Commission CEO Larry Barabino Jr. said he expected some players to be back on the field as early as this afternoon, since school administrators gave coaches advance knowledge of the decision last Friday.
“You will see them practicing today if the weather permits,” Barabino said. “They're set for games. They're set also to start hosting scrimmages and practice games as well.”
Avegno said the task force has gone through “pretty much every other detail you can think of,” and that practices and protocols mirror guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This includes student and coach screening protocols, strict regulations for on-field activities including mandatory masking and social distancing and limiting the number of people on benches and in locker rooms.
Events will be limited to 25 percent capacity, with a cap of no more than 250 fans. Indoor events will have an even lower cap, with no more than 100 fans. Spectators must wear masks and socially distance.
“I have to reiterate that uncontrolled crowds, as we know, pose a significant risk of super spreading,” Avegno said. “If you do go to a sporting event to spectate, please stick to the guidelines. Please wear a mask. Please stay within your household unit and just enjoy watching our young athletes on the field.”
The city will also reopen playgrounds and NORD will begin offering youth football and other sports programming including opening indoor basketball courts and replacing outdoor hoops.
Avegno also said that by the end of next week officials should have enough data to decide whether to relax other city-wide restrictions.