From where I sit, I say “let them play.”
College teams are competing. Pro teams are competing with fans. High school athletes in other states are allowed to compete and at least 35 of 62 counties in this state have given the go ahead with infection rates equal to or higher than Albany County. Most are playing with modifications in place, like abbreviated schedules and a limited number of fans or no fans at all, but they are playing.
I don’t think COVID is any different in other states, and there isn’t a particular strain of COVID targeting just high school athletes in New York state or Albany County or Section II.
So, let them play. Or at least give it a shot and see if things get measurably worse because of it or if the teams and coaches are responsible enough to do it in a safe manner.
Over in Rensselaer County, County Executive Steve McLaughlin gave the OK for athletes to play. Right off the bat Averill Park basketball reported a positive case — probably not from playing basketball — and they put the season back on pause. The coach, Sean Organ, told the Times Union the fact the season is on pause before it even begins is proof it can be done safely.
Maybe there is a different strain in Rensselaer County than Albany County?
Other things are opening up across the state. Restaurants and bars in so called “yellow zones” can begin serving again and now weddings can have up to 150 guests. That is according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who until a couple weeks ago has micro-managed the pandemic statewide, from restaurant capacity in the north country to mass transit in New York City to who can get vaccinated and when.
But, for some unfathomable reason, he punted and dumped the decision on whether or not to allow high-risk sports on the county health departments. Or, better said, without letting them know first, he said during a press conference high-risk sports are allowed statewide but only with the permission of the county health departments. He did so without a shred of “guidance,” and guidance is one thing Cuomo has not been shy about, setting arbitrary parameters on when things can open, when they have to close and about every other aspect of life during COVID.
Not so when it came to high school sports (as an aside, how his poll numbers are so high is a mystery — maybe it was the book) and the result is expected. A hodgepodge of decisions with some health departments giving the greenlight to winter high-risk basketball, hockey, wrestling and competitive cheerleading. For those athlete, the initial elation felt with the governor’s announcement was sustained.
For others, like in Albany County, the air was quickly let out of the balloon with County Executive Dan McCoy and Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, head of the county Health Department, saying nope. Sorry. We feel your pain but it is for the greater good that students from Bethlehem cannot travel 10 miles and play Guilderland in a game of basketball.
Most of the counties in the Capital District region and in Section II, though, are on the same page as Albany County and won’t let high risk sports commence until the rolling seven-day weekly infection rate is at or below 4 percent. As of Monday, in Albany County it is 5.5 percent, according to McCoy and in the eight-county Capital District region it is 5 percent, according to the state COVID-19 dashboard.
What is the difference between 4 percent and 5.5 percent at this stage of the game? Positivity rate is the percentage of those who take the COVID test and test positive for the virus. A barometer of the disease’s spread but not the most critical measure. Those getting tested have come into contact with someone who tested positive and/or those who have symptoms themselves. Of course the positivity rate is going to remain high.
By this point in time, we all know by now the virus is deadly to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions while it has little or no effect on healthy high school athletes or high school students in general. Sure, there are exceptions to that rule, but by and large, if you are healthy and you get the virus you will be OK.
We know too that healthy people, like high school athletes, while not getting sick themselves, can carry the virus to the vulnerable.
Then stay away from the most vulnerable. If that’s impossible, if grandma lives with the athlete, it should be up to the family to decide whether or not junior can play basketball or if the risk is too high.
At the start of this whole thing, one of the issues I had was that personal choice and responsibility was usurped by government officials telling us what is good for us and what is not. I guess it happens across the board with some being common sense, like a speed limit on public roads, and others are contrary to that, like banning flavored e-liquid across but not cigarettes.
Whalen said the decision was out of an abundance of caution, and that sentiment was understandable nearly a year ago, when we really didn’t know what we were up against. Now we do.
So, let them play.
Jim Franco can be reached at 518-878-1000 or by email at [email protected]