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Watch now: Gov. Pritzker stands behind high school football decision
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Watch now: Gov. Pritzker stands behind high school football decision

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SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that he stands behind his decision to prohibit high school football for the fall season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even as professional and many college leagues have decided to resume play.

“Over the summer, we saw outbreaks across Illinois and the world tied to a variety of youth sports leagues. Those continue today, even among the lowest risk youth sports,” Pritzker said during a COVID-19 news conference in Chicago. “We have watched professional sports and even some college teams play seemingly without many problems. But remember that these programs are operating with daily testing or in a league-created bubble, or with facilities that allow for outsized social distancing and are sanitized every day. And, in some cases, all of those precautions have been taken.”

Pritzker’s comments came one day after the Big 10 conference, which includes the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, reversed its earlier decision and announced that it will allow the 2020 football season to go forward starting Oct. 23-24 under enhanced health and safety protocols.

The NFL also has allowed its season to go forward under safety protocols that include limited seating in the stadiums.

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The Illinois Department of Public Health released its sports safety guidelines in July. Those guidelines divide various sports into three risk categories, depending on the level of physical contact involved, among other factors.

Football and hockey are in the highest risk category, meaning those teams are restricted to non-contact training. Basketball and soccer are considered medium risk, meaning they can have intra-team scrimmages but no competitive play. Baseball, golf and softball are considered low risk so they are allowed to engage in competitive games.

Football has been pushed back to the spring, along with boys soccer and girls volleyball. The only high school sports currently ongoing are cross country, golf, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving.

“The science is the same for sports as it is for restaurants, meetings, nursing homes, you name the situation,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “The more people you are around, the closer you are to them, and the longer you are around them, the greater the risk of transmitting COVID-19, and this includes colleges and universities.”

Dr. Michael Lin, an infectious disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said that regardless of the level of contact involved in any particular sport, all contact sports present some level of risk.

“While a contact sport itself provides an easy way on the field for the virus to spread, it is also incredibly important to remember that there are many off-the-field activities that are associated with contact sports, such as athletes using locker rooms, working out in gyms, and traveling together that provide a perfect storm of conditions.”

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