High school sports, specifically football, were once again a major topic of discussion at Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 press conference on Wednesday.
Pritzker had two doctors with him to back up his position on not allowing contact sports in the fall, Dr. Michael Lin from Rush and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Pritzker reiterated all of the points he’s made before about the dangers of youth sports during the pandemic, but his tone was notably more conciliatory and less combative than in the past.
He also gave a big-picture view of where he stands on youth sports during the pandemic.
“Under no circumstances will I put children and their families at risk to those claiming that putting your child in danger is about personal choice,” Pritzker said. “This is a terrible and unprecedented moment in our country. Living together in a free society means neighbors protecting each other, so that we can all enjoy freedom and safety. This deadly virus should remind us that there are some individual choices that have enormous life changing impact on others. While parents might choose to send their children out onto the playing field. I can tell you that someone else who becomes ill because of that decision, wouldn’t call that your personal choice. I want our kids back on the playing field or on the ice as much as anyone, and we’ll get there. When the doctors say it’s safe. Until then, let’s focus on keeping our schools and our businesses open, and on keeping everyone safe. Let’s be kind to one another too.”
The Big Ten announced on Wednesday that it would open the football season on Oct. 23. Pritzker pointed to regular testing as the major difference between college and high school sports.
“When you’re talking about the Big Ten and professional sports, it’s different, because of the amount of testing, the number of doctors available, the testing for myocarditis,” Pritzker said.
The Big Ten said it will conduct daily testing.
“I don’t know how many high school teams or grade school teams would have the ability to provide that level of testing, daily testing,” Ezike said.
Lin outlined how a single infection can threaten a community.
“Contact team sports such as football and hockey can become super spreading events very easily,” Lin said. “Just one youth athlete showing up with a virus can start a chain reaction of spread that can quickly threaten an entire team. While the virus continues to circulate widely in our communities. There’s no practical way to prevent outbreaks from happening in sports such as football with all the contact that’s inherent in the sport. This is not just theoretical. We’ve seen COVID-19 outbreaks in college and professional sports teams that have much more prevention resources at their disposal.”
Protests are scheduled in the suburbs on Wednesday and Thursday and football coaches have organized major rallies on Saturday at the Thompson Center and in Springfield. The goal is to start football and other fall sports immediately.
But on Wednesday, Pritzker said he doesn’t even know what the threshold for a return might be.
“What I’m being told by the doctors, there is not a positivity level that they’re labeling for me, that [says] at this level it’s safe,” Pritzker said.