ST. LOUIS COUNTY — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced Wednesday that the county is loosening some guidelines for youth sports, but keeping restrictions on games and tournaments for teenagers and high-contact sports like football.
The changes, which take effect on Friday, will allow players younger than 14 to participate in games for sports like baseball, cheerleading, softball, soccer, field hockey and volleyball, which the county considers “moderate-frequency” contact activities. Youth had been able to practice, but not play in competitions with other teams.
But for teens 14 and older, and for all youth playing “high-frequency” contact sports — like basketball, wrestling and football, practices are allowed, but games and tournaments still aren’t.
“These recommendations are coming forth based on what’s best to protect the health and welfare of teenagers, who are currently having a rate of COVID transmission that is not acceptable,” Page said. “It puts them at risk, and it puts their families at risk.”
The city of St. Louis, which had prohibited youth sports, also released new guidelines Wednesday evening, allowing some to resume: Practices are allowed for moderate and high-frequency contact sports, in groups of 11 players or fewer, but games and tournaments are not allowed. For low-frequency contact sports, practices are allowed, as are competitions with other teams in the region. Tournaments still are not permitted.
St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder said Wednesday that he believes the county’s youth sports rules are too strict, and the decisions should be left up to coaches, teams and schools.
“I just think they’ve taken this a little bit too far,” he said.
Page said the latest update to the restrictions came after consideration of the recent, steady increase of COVID-19 cases among residents between the age of 15 and 19.
Over the past two weeks, 90% of COVID-19 infections in county schools have been among middle school and high school students, Page said. In the county, the 15- to 19-year-old age group has a COVID-19 positivity rate of 20%, compared to an 8% positivity rate across all county residents, he said.
The county established a new category for moderate-frequency sports. Players younger than 14 years old will be able to participate in full team practices, and games with other teams from the region. The county, however, is still barring tournament-style competitions. Players age 14 and older will be allowed to practice these sports, but neither games nor tournaments will be allowed.
Practices for all high-frequency sports must be limited to 30 players or fewer. Under the previous guidelines, these sports were limited to 20 players.
Children of all ages can participate in practices and competitions in low-contact sports, like gymnastics, swimming and track.
Page also said Wednesday that the St. Louis County Department of Public Health will modify its recommendations so that schools can consider in-person learning for elementary school students. But he said the health department does not yet support in-person learning for middle school or high school students.
In south St. Louis County, Lindbergh school district officials said Wednesday that students in fourth and fifth grades can return to classrooms starting Sept. 17.
Classes will be held on a hybrid schedule, with half of the students attending Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other half attending Wednesdays and Fridays. All students attend virtually on Mondays. The district also offers a fully virtual option for all students.
Kindergarten through third grade students in the district started the school year on the hybrid schedule. The district’s preschool center has been open full-time since July.
Since school started last month, the district has reported one positive case of COVID-19 among students and no cases in preschool or elementary school staff members.
Last week, superintendents in the Rockwood and Mehlville school districts said they were already working on plans to bring back the younger grades to school buildings this month.
Blythe Bernhard of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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