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New Jersey Department of Health issues guidance for outdoor organized sports

The New Jersey Department of Health Monday issued guidance on COVID-19 health and safety protocols for outdoor organized sports activities, which are set to resume on Monday, June 22.

The guidance permits practices and competitions for low-risk sports such as golf and tennis that do not involve contact, and allows for modified, no-contact practices for medium-risk sports such as soccer, baseball, and softball, and high-risk sports like football. Officials said traditional practices and competitions for low and medium-risk sports are expected to be allowed as of July 6, and on July 20 for high-risk sports. As of now, officials said only outdoor activities will be permitted.

“Sports provide an opportunity for healthy exercise and skill building,” said state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “This guidance will enable these activities to resume while protecting the players, coaches, and staff – and the larger community – from the spread of COVID-19.”

Under the guidance, outdoor athletic facilities are permitted to open and be available for organized youth and adult sports activities. Municipalities retain the discretion to open or close municipal fields or facilities for these activities.

Each sports program must develop a preparation plan that includes social distancing, staggered schedules, screening, equipment cleaning and sanitation, and face-covering protocols, among other measures. Programs should consider creating consistent groups of the same staff, volunteers, and athletes, and should avoid mixing between groups. Athletes are encouraged to bring their own water bottles and equipment to practices, and equipment sharing should be limited.

Practices and games must follow outdoor gathering limits including athletes, staff, and any visitors or spectators.

Staff, visitors, parents and guardians are required to wear cloth face coverings at practices and games. Athletes are encouraged to wear masks during downtime, but not during physical activity. Nonessential visitors, spectators, staff, volunteers, vendors, media interactions, and activities involving external groups or organizations should be limited as much as possible.

Officials said the guidance does not apply to professional sports activities or U.S. national team activities. High school sporting activities under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association must abide by NJSIAA protocols, which shall consider state Health Department guidance, and may not resume before June 30. 

Youth sports summer camps, which are permitted to open July 6, must follow camp standards in addition to the organized sports guidance.