JoCo Health Department offers safety tips as schools decide fate of indoor winter sports

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OLATHE, Kan. — Johnson County’s Department of Health & Environment is recommending indoor winter sports, like wrestling and basketball, should not be played. But its letter to schools does offer suggestions for how to keep those activities safe, if schools decide to still have a season.

Amber Cooley’s daughters are thrilled to be back in school and participating in sports. It’s been especially important to her middle schooler.

“She just broke down and she cried. I hadn’t realized how much she’d missed being in school,” said Cooley, an Olathe parent.

Both girls ran cross country this fall and they’ve been playing competitive club basketball since June.

“What we’re seeing is those sporting activities have not been causing huge issues,” Cooley said.

But in a letter to Johnson County’s six school district superintendents, the health department says COVID-19 has been a concern in sports. Hundreds of high school football players have been quarantined, with several of them testing positive. And that happened with the advantage of playing in a lower risk outdoor setting.

“Indoor environment really presents a higher level of risk because the ventilation is not as good, especially if you pack the place up with spectators during sports and with sports, athletes in close proximity with heavy breathing,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health & Environment.

That’s why Areola is recommending schools not allow indoor winter sports and activities. But he knows some districts and youth sports organizations may decide to carry on.

“If you decide to proceed with basketball for example then take steps to reduce the risk. One is not allowing spectators and if you must allow spectators, keep it to the immediate family to limit the size,” Areola said.

“I hope the districts don’t jump the gun—I hope they look at all info they have and take recommendations into consideration but I feel like we’ve operated on a lot of ‘what ifs. This or that might happen and lot of those things didn’t happen,” Cooley said.

As of now, Olathe and Blue Valley are planning to allow winter sports to continue with precautions. Spring Hill and Shawnee Mission’s school boards will weigh in before a decision is made.

Olathe and Johnson and County Parks & Recreation departments are evaluating the situation and say they’ll make adjustments as necessary.

“These are really times for us to double down for us to not let our foot off the pedal,” Areola said.

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