The first step towards a resumption of high school athletics in Georgia has been taken.
Thursday afternoon, the GHSA held a virtual Board of Trustees meeting during which it was announced that member schools can begin to hold conditioning workouts June 8. Those sessions come with several restrictions, including a limit of 20 individuals (players and coaches) at a time.
"The plan is restrictive and provides for conditioning only," GHSA Executive Director Robin Hines said in a statement posted to the governing body's website. "As the data related to COVID-19 continues to improve, restrictions may be reduced after input from our health care professionals and guidance from our governor.
"Please make every effort to follow the recommendations and restrictions included in the guidance provided. As you return to conditioning, keep in mind that the majority of your athletes have 'deconditioned' the past two months and need to work into what would be normal for this time of year. Reduce the work and gradually increase the workouts with time."
After the coronavirus outbreak, the GHSA followed the lead of Governor Brian Kemp, shutting down all games and activities while school campuses were closed. The initial decision came March 17, and all GHSA events for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year were officially canceled and summer workouts were indefinitely postponed April 2.
There are plenty of caveats to Thursday's decision to begin lifting the ban. The most obvious one is that this is only an approval for conditioning. No sports specific equipment is allowed at these sessions.
According to the minutes from Thursday's meeting posted on the GHSA website, Hines' initial proposal called for a June 1 return. However, athletic directors from three of the state's largest school systems — Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County Schools and Henry County Schools — expressed concerns about being able to properly prepare in such a short window.
“I don’t have any problems with the plan itself,” Henry County Schools athletic director Curt Miller was quoted as saying. “It’s the June 1 date. If we could just push that back a week, it would make things a lot easier on the larger systems.”
Thursday's announcement did not include any future timeline, meaning a return to actual practices or the opportunity to have tryouts remain on hold indefinitely. It does, however, offer the initial glimpse of sports making a comeback on a local level in the Peach State.
Along with a guidance list, detailing the recommendations and restrictions on holding conditioning workouts, the GHSA also posted on its website a monitoring form for coaches and players, as well as a "Workout Questionnaire."
Each monitoring form has a space to record an individual's temperature, if higher than 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and yes/no boxes under the following categories: fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, recent loss of taste or smell, and close contact or care for someone with COVID-19.
The questionnaire includes four questions every athlete should answer before being allowed to participate in a workout:
— Do you or have you had a fever in the last week?
— Have you been diagnosed with COVID-19?
— Have you been in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19?
— Have you traveled to a “hot spot” for COVID-19?
If the answer is "Yes" to any of the questions, then the athlete shouldn't participate in any workouts for a 14-day period, per the GHSA guidelines.
Along with the aforementioned limit on group size, individuals (again referring to both players and coaches) aren't allowed to change groups over the duration of this undetermined time period in an effort to limit risk of exposure. There should also be a minimum of 15 minutes between workout groups to allow for disinfecting of facilities, where applicable.
As far as the weight rooms are concerned, equipment should be cleaned and sanitized before and after use by each student. Masks or face coverings are recommended for the weight room, while spotting weightlifters should only be done from the side. (Although, the guidance says the use of safety bars is preferable.)
Other safety measures involve no access to locker rooms or shower facilities, readily available hand sanitizer and use of personal water bottles only. The guidance list also notes that social distancing is to be practiced at all times during these sessions.
School systems are also asked to develop an "infectious disease prevention plan" before athletes and coaches take part in conditioning.
"Keep in mind," Hines writes, "that member schools may be more restrictive than the guidance but may not be less restrictive."