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Health, Science, Environment

St. Louis, St. Louis County Ease Some Youth Sports Restrictions

Saadiq Mohhamed and Sa'ad Hussein are two Somali soccer stars that have started a new life in St. Louis after leaving their war-torn home. They are pictured here working with children at a St. Louis soccer park.
File Photo | J.R. Biersmith
St. Louis and St. Louis County officials announced they were loosening restrictions for youth sports, but what is allowed depends on how old students are and where they live.

Updated at 7:15 p.m. Sept. 9.

Officials in St. Louis and St. Louis County eased coronavirus-related rules limiting youth sports Wednesday, allowing young athletes to resume practices and some to return to competitive play.

The athletes have had to sit out competitions for months because of coronavirus-related restrictions.

Athletes 13 and younger in low- and moderate-contact sports will be able to return to competitive play starting Friday in St. Louis County. These include baseball, soccer and volleyball.

The county still prohibits games for football and other high-contact sports.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday that the younger athletes will be able to resume competitions and games in certain sports because of the lower rate of coronavirus transmission in that age group.

The new rules are based on recommendations from the St. Louis Sports Medicine COVID-19 Task Force, which advises schools on restarting youth sports.

“One of the things now we have access to a little better data, more specific data,” said Katie Smith, SSM Sports Medicine outreach manager and one of the leaders of the task force. “In the under-14 population, while there are still cases of COVID-19 in our region, ultimately they are significantly less than those in the 15- to 19-year-old population.”

In the county, all ages may still participate in low-contact sports, but athletes over the age of 14 remain barred from participating in moderate- to high-contact sport competitions.

“These activities that transmit infections are not unique to school sports, but school sports remain an area of high concern,” Page said.

Later Wednesday, the St. Louis Health Department issued similar guidelines.

Student athletes in St. Louis will be able to return to team practices, but group sizes are limited for high- and moderate-contact sports such as football, baseball and basketball.

St. Louis children and teens playing those sports will not be able to play games or tournaments. Athletes who take part in cross-country or other low-contact sports will be able to compete with other schools in the region.

“We’re just being conservative in our approach,” said Dr. Fred Echols, acting St. Louis health director. “We really want to do our due diligence to make sure we’re allowing sports to happen in a safe manner. This is kind of opening the door to sports."

City health officials decided to limit moderate-contact sports regardless of athletes’ age, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggests children can transmit the virus at the same rate as adults, Echols said.

“Based on that information, we thought it was in the best interest of the health of the youth to standardize these guidance for all age groups,” he said.

Both St. Louis and St. Louis County won’t allow spectators at any athletic events, regardless of athletes’ ages. Athletes must wear masks when not exercising vigorously and take part in health screenings before every practice or game.

Much of the spread associated with sports is coming from people on the sidelines, Smith said.

“We felt confident they could return to more traditional activity in pretty much most sports, as long as we’re controlling the number of spectators and other groups that are gathering around those sports,” she said.

Smith said she can envision football eventually returning later this year. But navigating a return to competitive play for winter sports might be more difficult, because they’re played indoors with less ventilation.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

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