All indoor sports can resume in N.J., Murphy says. That includes ice hockey games.

Posted Oct 12, 2020

Teams that play winter sports such as basketball and ice hockey in New Jersey just got the go-head to begin practicing and playing games indoors again amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order Monday allowing organized sports considered “medium risk” and “high risk” to resume contact practices and games indoors, with restrictions, in youth, high school, college, and adult-league settings.

That includes basketball, hockey, cheerleading, group dance, rugby, boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo, and wrestling, the governor’s office said.

Murphy has issued guidelines over the last few months gradually allowing certain organized sports to resume in the Garden State as the COVID-19 outbreak slowed. For example, a ban on low-risk sports such as golf was lifted June 22. High-risk sports such as football were cleared for outdoor contact practices and games starting July 20. Medium-risk sports were cleared for no-contact indoor practices starting July 8, followed by high-risk sports July 20.

But until Monday’s order, medium- and high-risk sports were relegated to outdoor games and limited indoor drills. Murphy has repeatedly warned that COVID-19 is more dangerous indoors than outdoors.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for our student-athletes, support staff, and school communities,” Murphy said in a statement. “After consulting stakeholders and medical experts, we have concluded that, with proper public health and safety protocols in place, indoor sports may now resume in a way that protects players, coaches, and staff.”

Under the order — which takes effect immediately — attendance at practices and competition is limited to 25% of a room’s capacity, or 25 people maximum, whichever number is lower. But if the number of people necessary, such as athletes, coaches, and referees, exceeds 25, spectators and others will be prohibited. Still, even if this exception applies, the number of people allowed cannot exceed 25% of the room’s capacity, and the limit cannot exceed 150 people.

Both facilities and participates also must abide by a number of health and safety protocols from the state Department of Health — including screenings for athletes, coaches, and staff; limits on equipment sharing, and disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces and equipment.

Plus, high school and college sports must follow rules set by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, respectively.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said he worked with Murphy’s office for a couple of weeks to craft this order.

Hopefully, Sarlo said, it will “pave the way” for indoor fall and winter sports at the high school level. Outdoor high school sports such as football have seasons already underway. Even schools that have remote classes are permitted to participate.

Though Monday’s order clears indoor sports to resume, it’s ultimately up to the NJSIAA, college conferences, and individual high schools and colleges to decide whether their teams will compete.

“This is a good first step," Sarlo told NJ Advance Media.

New Jersey’s coronavirus numbers improved significantly over the summer after peaking in April. But Monday’s order comes just as the state’s figures have begun to trend upwards in recent weeks.

The state has announced more than 800 new cases in three of the last five days, and more than 600 people are in the hospital for the first time in two months, though new deaths have remained relatively flat.

Limitations on indoor sports had become an issue in recent weeks as players, parents, and some Republican lawmakers pushed Murphy, a Democrat, to allow youth ice hockey to resume games. Hockey is typically played at indoor ice rinks, but indoor games had been barred until Monday.

Proponents of allowing hockey to resume argued there’s minimal risk of players contracting COVID-19 because ice rinks have strong ventilation and players make little contact with each other.

And Sarlo said the issue was not just about competition. The state senator said allowing games to resume also benefits large hockey venues in the state that pay a lot in taxes and energy costs. He noted many youth club and travel teams threatened to play in other states instead.

State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, R-Morris, thanked Murphy for this move, saying it will help hundreds of youth and amateur hockey players in New Jersey.

“This is also a small victory for all of us who have seen the life-changing impacts of the pandemic,” Bucco added. “It is one more step toward the responsible return to normalcy that our society so desperately craves.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-10-13 03:13:03 -0700