Considerations for Recreational Sports

This document provides information on what factors to consider when assessing risk, and considerations for how sports organizations and individuals who manage settings in which sports are played can help protect players, participants, and communities.  As communities and organizations begin to increase sports activities, this document is intended to supplement the requirements for Recreational Sports outlined in Executive Order 72 and the accompanying Phase Three Guidance for Recreational Sports.  

Individuals who participate in, attend, or organize sports activities should consider the potential  level of risk for transmitting COVID-19 associated with certain sports before deciding to participate in recreational sports. COVID-19 is spread by close contact between infectious individuals (who may or may not be symptomatic). In line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Considerations for Youth Sports, VDH recommends that participants and organizers of sports activities consider the following to help assess the risk of spread during a particular sport: 

    • Physical closeness of players, and the length of time that players are close to each other or to staff. 
    • Amount of necessary touching of shared equipment and gear (e.g., protective gear, balls, bats, racquets, mats, or water bottles). 
    • Ability to engage in social distancing while not actively engaged in play (e.g., during practice, on the sideline, or in the dugout). 
    • Age of the player. 
    • Players at higher risk of developing serious disease. 
    • Size of the team. Nonessential visitors, spectators, volunteers. Limit any nonessential visitors, spectators, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations.
    • Travel outside of the local community. 
    • Setting in which the sport is typically played (e.g. indoors vs. outdoors).

During times of substantial COVID-19 activity in a community,  participating in recreational sports that involve close contact with others may increase risk of COVID-19 transmission and is not advisable. This is especially true with large events. Consider the extent of community transmission in a region/locality when deciding whether to participate.  During times of significantly increasing disease spread, organizers of such events should consider cancelling or postponing competition in favor of lesser risk activities such as low-contact drills or practices.  

During times of substantial COVID-19 activity VDH strongly advises athletes to wear masks at all times during group training, competition, and on the sidelines. There is strong evidence to show that mask use prevents the spread of COVID-19, which is also recommended Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  We also know that participating in sports has both physical and psychological health benefits. Risks from the virus can be decreased if athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators follow public health guidelines.

Wearing masks is especially important during indoor competition and practices. Wearing masks is also important in shared spaces such as locker rooms, and during shared transportation (including carpooling) to/from an event. Masks should also be worn by coaches, officials, spectators and volunteers at all times and coaches and/or officials should monitor proper use.  Individual outdoor sports that do not involve close contact (e.g. golf, singles tennis, etc) may not necessitate wearing a mask.  Masks are generally well tolerated by the majority of persons who wear them during exercise; however the masks may need to be removed under certain circumstances (e.g. if the masks become wet).  There are some sports in which the mask could become a choking hazard or inadvertently impair vision and should not be worn, such as cheerleading-tumbling/stunting, gymnastics, wrestling and water sports.

 If wearing a mask makes participation in sports difficult, it is advisable not to participate in sports at this time.

Travel outside of a local community and participating in large events such as tournaments may increase risk of COVID-19 transmission. Consider the extent of community transmission in a region/locality when deciding whether to participate in or host a tournament or similar event.  Localities or regions experiencing substantial COVID-19 transmission should consider delaying or cancelling large events.  Individuals at high risk or whose family members are at high risk for adverse outcomes from COVID-19 should especially consider avoiding travel to areas experiencing substantial transmission.

COVID-19 is also spread off the field.  Close contact in locker rooms, in carpooling, or in other confined spaces are high-risk situations, and should be avoided to the extent possible.  Pre-game meetings and post-game ceremonies should be avoided or modified to allow proper distancing. Handshakes, fist bumps, and other gestures involving close physical contact should be avoided.  Some large events such as marathons and large sports tournaments have attractions such as live music or food vendors.  These additional attractions should be discouraged to minimize large gatherings, and race organizers should encourage people not to congregate at the start and finish of races.

Indoor environments are higher risk environments for spreading COVID-19.  While being outside does not remove the risk of transmitting COVID-19, indoor spaces are higher risk environments for spreading COVID-19 than outdoor environments. This is especially true if spaces are crowded or have poor ventilation. Spectators or other attendees/participants who are shouting and cheering, or having additional activities such as a pep band may increase the risk of spreading COVID-19, and are an additional concern in indoor environments.   Prioritize outdoor play, as opposed to indoor, as much as possible.  

Additional Considerations:

People involved in recreational sports (including family/household members) should consider their household’s level of risk and interaction with other at risk populations when determining whether to participate in recreational sports. Factors that place people (including household members) at higher risk of adverse outcomes from COVID-19 include older age and certain medical conditions. Additionally, there may be increased risk to others outside of the household if a household member routinely comes into close contact with elderly persons, provides professional caregiving, or works in congregate settings.