Vaccination strategy for high school sports under discussion

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

Gov. Ned Lamont, left, discusses COVID-19 vaccination strategy for high school athletes and other young people with Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference executive director Glenn Lungarini and two other representatives of the CIAC on July 26 following a news conference at a mobile vaccination clinic on the New Haven Green. -PAUL HUGHES/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NEW HAVEN — While fall sports are set to resume when high schools reopen, whether student-athletes will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to compete remains undecided.

At this time, there is no state policy or ruling from the governing body of high school athletics in Connecticut, so decisions on requiring students to be vaccinated to participate in sports will be up to individual school districts.

Gov. Ned Lamont indicated July 26 that could possibly change between now and the start of the new school year, depending on developments in the state’s coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, he is encouraging high school athletes and other students to voluntarily get vaccinated.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference is doing the same, but executive director Glenn Lungarini declined July 26 to say whether the CIAC and state officials are discussing the possibility of a vaccine mandate.

“At this point, we’re just having conversations about what we can do to encourage kids to get vaccinated, and we are confident in their response,” he said.

The CIAC canceled the high school football season last fall after the state Department of Public Health refused to endorse its plans for reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Other fall sports were played, including boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, girls field hockey, girls swimming and girls volleyball.

Last November, Lamont placed a moratorium on all youth sports until Jan. 19. After the two-month pause, winter sports were allowed to resume, subject to certain protocols.

Lungarini joined Lamont in encouraging high school athletes to get vaccinated during a news conference July 26 at a mobile vaccination clinic on the New Haven Green that focused on the state’s ongoing vaccination program.

“It is about the team. It is not just about you. It is not just you’re not on the field. It could mean your entire team has to quarantine, and what that means for the season, and that is an analogy for the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said.

He would not rule out a vaccination mandate for high school sports, but he said school officials have the authority to require athletes to get vaccinated as a condition of playing sports short of a state directive.

“As far as I’m concerned, it is a little different situation. You don’t have to play football, and I certainly see this in the major leagues, I certainly see this in the Olympics, and we’ll be talking about this with the CIAC to hear their recommendations, and they’ll hear from Deidre,” he said, referring to Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the acting public health commissioner.

Lungarini would only say that CIAC representatives are continuing to consult DPH and the state Department of Education.

“I remember last fall I had some football dads and soccer moms that thought it was really important that we keep sports going,” Lamont said, “and we’re going to have sports this fall thanks to each every one of you, thanks to the coaches, thanks to the CIAC, who has been an amazing partner for us.”