BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — One of Louisiana’s education leaders is calling for the cancellation of public school athletics this fall amid the resurgence of the state’s coronavirus outbreak, with nearly 2,000 new virus cases confirmed Tuesday and hospitalizations from the COVID-19 disease heading above 1,000.
Senate Education Chairman Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, sent letters to the leaders of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana School Boards Association, calling for the suspension of athletic events at K-12 public schools during the fall semester as a safety precaution.
“I’m asking them to step up and take action to protect our children,” he said in a statement.
Fields’ request comes as Louisiana is seeing a sharp uptick in confirmed cases of COVID-19 and patients who are hospitalized with complications from the disease. More than 3,200 Louisiana residents have died from COVID-19, according to the state health department, a number that grew by 23 Tuesday.
The state also saw one of its largest recent single-day surges in coronavirus cases with another 1,936 people confirmed to be infected, according to health department data. More than 1,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, a number that has steadily increased, causing worry among public health officials.
Still, Louisiana has not yet returned to hospitalization rates seen in April, when the virus threatened to overwhelm health care facilities in the New Orleans area.
Fields wants the state’s top school board to issue rules requiring the athletics suspension. If the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education does not do so, he’s asking the school boards association to ask local school boards and superintendents to cancel fall sports events voluntarily.
“This suspension should include all activities of any kind that would include student in-person participation in a group setting, including conditioning, practice and team meetings,” Fields wrote in both letters. He added: “I do not believe that conditioning activities can be conducted safely, much less drills, practice and games. There is simply too much close proximity involved to safely conduct these activities.”
He said some public school teams have been holding football practices and other sports activities, and he doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to let the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, a private entity, make decisions about whether student sports events continue during the pandemic.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has scheduled a special July 14 meeting to discuss issues related to the virus outbreak. No agenda has been posted. A board spokesman said the meeting will involve the adoption of minimum standards governing school reopenings this fall, but it’s unclear if the board will consider Fields’ request as part of that discussion.
A call to the executive director of the school boards association was not immediately returned Tuesday.
The state education department’s reopening guidelines for public schools say schools should “refrain from contact and high-risk sports” during the current Phase 2 restrictions on businesses and activities Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued statewide.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.
Louisiana has more than 68,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Public health experts say the actual infection rate is expected to be much higher because many people don’t experience significant symptoms and others never get tested.