The Arizona Interscholastic Association on Monday released its updated return-to-play recommended guidelines for the upcoming 2021-22 season, which is scheduled to begin in August.
The recommendations, which were first initiated last year when the AIA executive board voted to move forward with sports despite the coronavirus pandemic taking a toll on Arizona, mimicked some of the same guidelines set forth by the association’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee in 2020.
“COVID-19 is and will continue to be present in our communities indefinitely,” the document read. “As long as there is active community spread which means that new cases are still increasing we much all be stewards of maintaining a healthy community by limiting the spread of disease.”
Like last year, the AIA is recommending proper hygiene from student athletes, coaches and those associated with sports programs. Additionally, practice areas with proper air flow should still be utilized to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The AIA also recommends continued use of individual water bottles rather than a community source, which most, if not all sports programs continue to do.
Any athlete, coach, staff member or individual closely associated with programs is encouraged to stay home if any symptoms of illness are present. If an individual does become ill and a lab test determines it is COVID-19, a team point of contact should be notified and anybody that is determined to be a close contact should isolate away from other members of the program. The AIA shares the same definition of a close contact as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – someone who has been within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 total minutes.
As was the case last year, close contacts should be monitored for symptoms. If they are unvaccinated, a negative PCR test at least 7 days after exposure can be used for clearance. However, they must still be without symptoms for at least 10 days after they were exposed. If a test is not taken, they can return to activities after 14 days with no symptoms.
New guidelines for vaccinated individuals
The updated guidelines for the 2021-22 season featured recommendations for individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Unlike last year, where masks, social distancing and limited out-of-state travel were recommended by the AIA, vaccinated individuals can virtually return to a sense of normalcy, with some modifications. The AIA recommends fully vaccinated individuals to refrain from testing even if they are deemed to be a close contact with someone infected with the virus. They can also avoid quarantine if they remain asymptomatic.
However, if they do begin to show symptoms of the virus, they will be required to follow the AIA’s current return-to-play guidelines.
“The AIA strongly recommends that all members of the athletic community who are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are vaccinated,” the document said. “Fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to unvaccinated people, from being infected with SARS-CoV-2, or having severe infection with SARS-CoV-2.”
Return-to-play guidelines after infection
Like in 2020, athletes who do test positive for COVID-19 will be required to follow the CDCs guidelines for home isolation. Current guidelines state individuals who test positive should isolate for a minimum of 10 days and only emerge from isolation if they are at least 24 hours removed from a fever and other symptoms are improving.
The AIA currently will not require a negative test to return to play. However, athletes do have to be cleared by a physician following COVID-19 infection and present a form that shows no risk of cardiovascular issues after infection.
If athletes are forced into isolation and are unvaccinated with no symptoms, a negative PCR nasal swab test can be taken between days 10 and 14. If negative, athletes can return to play on day 15 without additional clearance from physicians.
The AIA also said athletes who are in isolation without symptoms can partake in light, isolated activities at home.
Suspension of competition due to outbreaks
As was seen on several occasions last year, the chance for teams to shut down activities due to an outbreak remains. According to the document, an outbreak occurs when two positive cases are present on teams with less than 25 total members. On teams with more than 25 individuals, three or more cases is considered an outbreak.
If an outbreak occurs, all practices and games for unvaccinated members should be suspended for a minimum of 8 days. If the individuals who are positive for COVID-19, the entire team should suspend activities. If new cases develop, the suspension of team activities should be extended.
The AIA stressed its recommended guidelines is a living document, which can be updated at any time. To read the full recommendations from the AIA, click here.
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,441 new COVID-19 cases on Monday. It’s the eighth straight day the state topped at least 1,000 new cases.