POLK COUNTY, Iowa — The Polk County Health Department is asking local high schools to temporarily suspend the winter sports season due to the “alarming number of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations” in the county.
Polk County Health Department Director Helen Eddy said Polk County’s coronavirus positivity rate is over 20%, and significant mitigation efforts must be done to slow down the spread of the virus.
“We need to change the trajectory of this disease and the impact we are seeing in our community, including overwhelmed hospitals and staff. We are asking you to temporarily suspend youth extracurricular activities, including high school athletics, until we have this current surge under control,” said Eddy.
The request was sent in identical letters to Polk County superintendents and athletic directors and both the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union (IGHSAU).
“Any time we bring together people for an extended period of time, we greatly increase the chance of COVID-19 spreading. This includes extracurricular activities and high school sports. We put our youth, their families, and our communities at risk when we continue these activities during uncontrolled community spread of COVID-19, such as we are currently experiencing,” said Eddy.
The Polk County Health Department just wants the winter sports season to be postponed until the current coronavirus surge is mitigated and transmission is reduced.
“We know how important sports and other activities are to students, athletes, coaches, schools and families and that they create lifetime memories, bonding experiences and community unity. However, we cannot have any of that if the spread of COVID-19 continues unchecked,” said Eddy.
The Central Iowa Metropolitan League (CIML), made up of 18 high schools, has already requested to delay the start of winter sports until Jan. 4.
The CIML sent a letter to the IGHSAU and IHSAA seeking to delay the start of basketball, wrestling and other sports until students return to school following their winter break.
Schools that do not offer in-class instruction are ineligible to compete in extracurricular activities and sports. Most Des Moines schools were unable to compete in fall sports due to the district starting the year with virtual-only instruction.
The IHSAA and IGHSAU offered a joint response to the request from the CIML. The response reads in part:
“The IHSAA and IGHSAU appreciate the considerations of the CIML in regards to winter activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. As with all member school decisions, the members of the CIML may continue or suspend activities as they see fit in their school districts and in accordance with State of Iowa and Department of Education guidance. We will take your concerns under advisement as we enter the scheduled winter seasons.”
Monday was the first day of basketball practice for Iowa schools, according to the IHSAA website. The first games will be played on Nov. 30.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that Iowa has the nation’s third-highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the previous 14 days, according to information from Johns Hopkins University.
The Iowa Department of Public Health’s statistics Saturday morning showed 32 more Iowans have died from COVID-19 and 3,627 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed.