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Sports Defeat Other Extracurricular Activities in Quest for Student “Normalcy”

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello on Jan. 28, 2021, talks about recent decrease in COVID-19 cases. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group from Monroe County Facebook page

Wrestling, basketball, hockey and competitive cheerleading can return to Monroe County high schools as soon as Feb. 1.

But activities that non-athletes need to return to what local health officials say is a student’s “sense of normalcy” – have to wait.

“I understand there is guidance under development,” Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said Jan. 28 during the weekly COVID-19 media briefing with Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.

“Certainly, we want to support extracurricular activities equitably,” he said. “I was a participant in both performing arts and athletics and I can attest to the value of both and that they are both complements to the extracurricular experience that our students have.”

On Jan. 22, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed the return of “higher-risk” sports that involve more contact, Mendoza and Bello released the following statement:

“Over the past several weeks, we have heard from many parents, families and student-athletes regarding a return of ‘higher-risk’ high school sports. This is an issue we’ve been continuously advocating for through the Finger Lakes Regional Control Room, to ensure our young athletes have an opportunity to compete safely. There have been many meetings with the Monroe County School Superintendents and Athletic Directors, as this planning requires public health and safety remain at the forefront. Our school districts have done an incredible job mitigating the spread of COVID-19. We support the Governor’s proposal to allow these activities to resume on February 1, 2021, and we support allowing these activities to begin in Monroe County. We will be again meeting with area school leadership in the coming days to develop plans so that our young people in Monroe County can participate.

“We know how hard the last 10 months have been for our community, particularly our students and high school student-athletes. The return of high school sports will give them a sense of normalcy, and an opportunity to compete with their friends and classmates.”

Asked about preparations for non-sport extracurriculars, Mendoza said, “One thing had to go first, and for whatever reason, athletics went first. I’m very eager to learn about what is in store for the performing arts and we’re eager to implement whatever guidelines come from the state health department and other authorities. When that time comes, we’ll engage in the same collaboration that we’ve had all along with our schools to make it happen and ensure the safety and health of our musicians and performers.”

The Rochester City School District did not participate in fall sports. According to the reopening plan posted on its website, RCSD “will not be able to provide any in-person extracurricular programs after considering social distancing guidelines, PPE usage, cleaning and disinfection protocols, as well as risk of COVID-19 transmission. RCSD will continue to look for opportunities to offer extracurricular activities that can be continued remotely in the event of another shut down.”

An email to the district requesting clarification was not immediately answered.

Other topics from the briefing:

New cases and hospitalizations continue to decline: The numbers in Monroe County are at their lowest in at least a month and some rival the numbers around Thanksgiving. Of note, however: For the past couple of weeks, about 20% of people in the Finger Lakes region who are hospitalized are in intensive care.

“It confirms what we’ve known all along, which is that COVID can cause very critical, serious illness,” Mendoza said. “The individuals who are now admitted to the ICU were generally admitted some time ago, were infected weeks ago. … The ICU admission rate is an even further lagging indicator behind the hospitalization rate. I won’t expect that number to change very drastically in the near future. I think hospitalization numbers will decline first and then hopefully we’ll see people in the ICU go home or to rehab or to whatever facility after that.”

Testing: Free testing still is available, although Bello said the numbers are down. The county appointment site goes live every Friday at noon for the following week, but Bello said walk-ups can be accommodated.

“We need to keep up that testing level to make sure that we’re finding these positive cases and getting these people quarantined and isolated appropriately,” Bello said.

Appointments can be made at https://www.monroecounty.gov/healthcalls/register

Vaccine supply: Bello explained the supply chain: Manufacturer to federal government to New York state to Monroe County. He said the county has no control over the amount of vaccine received, but it can control how quickly and efficiently it administers those doses. He said the county has worked on a system to use vaccine as it arrives. Mendoza said about 1,000 of the 1,500 doses that arrived this week would be used for teachers. He said appointments are filled within minutes.