UTAH (ABC4) – Even in the midst of a COVID surge and with several schools in the state moving to online learning, there are no plans to suspend or make adjustments to extracurricular activities that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has called “high risk,” sources tell ABC4.com
A representative from the Utah High School Activities Association, the leadership organization for fine arts and athletics, confirmed in a statement that the topic of any possible adjustments or suspensions to the winter sports season has not been formally discussed. The UHSAA is preparing for a regularly scheduled meeting this week without COVID issues on its agenda but will notify the public if that changes, the spokesperson has said via text message.
Winter sports sanctioned by the UHSAA include boys and girls basketball, drill team, swimming, and wrestling.
The spokesperson added that while there have been some recent cancellations and postponements to games due to COVID, there have also been a few due to snow and weather concerns, which is common in the winter, regardless of a pandemic or not.
Band is another high-risk activity, recommended to be canceled or held virtually if a community is in a high transmission status by the CDC. However, the director for one of the state’s most accomplished high school bands explained to ABC4.com as well that no adjustments have been made for that activity either.
“Nothing,” the faculty director of the large, Northern Utah-located marching band stated in an email. “All year long no adjustments have been made. Most of the students in the schools don’t wear masks and I’m not even remotely surprised that things are as bad as they are.”
The band director notes he has been sanitizing his seats and music stands after each class or practice and has been keeping his students as distanced as possible.
The issue reached the front page of national news on Monday in an article by CNN’s Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. In CNN’s report, Dr. William Schaffner, a longtime CDC adviser called the suggestions by the center a longshot to be accepted by the American public.
“Making public health recommendations, they are not a platonic ideal,” Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, stated to a national audience. “They have to work in the real world.”
Responding to an inquiry from CNN, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky defended her organization’s suggestions, rooting them more in keeping kids in classrooms than on the playing surfaces or courts.
“When followed, our school guidance has been incredibly effective. In the fall, 99% of schools were able to remain open during the intense delta wave of COVID,” she stated.
The CDC’s recommendation of canceling school athletics and activities such as band would currently apply to its transmission map that finds 99% of the United States, and all of Utah, in a high rate of transmission.
To mitigate the spread of the Omicron variant of the virus, Utah leaders have authorized the option for school districts that meet a certain threshold of positive cases to move to online learning this week and next week. This will be done in lieu of the test-to-stay program that had been pulling valuable tests from other locations where they are needed, a letter signed by Governor Spencer J. Cox, State Senate President Stuart Adams, Utah House of Representatives Brad Wilson, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson reads.