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The groundwork is being laid for the potential return of high school sports and activities this fall.

The 20-person fall sports/activities task force assembled by the South Dakota High School Activities Association convened for the first time Monday to examine safety guidelines and procedures for fall sports and other activities.

After hearing updates on the state’s COVID-19 situation from the committee’s Department of Health and medical representatives, SDHSAA executive director Dan Swartos said they looked at what “big questions” need to be answered. From the schools, many of the questions pertained to crowd sizes and safety, screening procedures for athletes, protocol for handling confirmed cases and what will happen if there is exposure.

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As they work toward a final document, Swartos said the SDHSAA staff will begin by addressing protocols for screening, confirmed cases and exposure. They plan to present a draft proposal to the committee during their next meeting on July 9 or 10 — that will come after the next Department of Health and Department of Education meeting (July 8). 

“The good thing here is we’ve been working in conjunction with the DOE and DOH. We all want to be on the same page with this,” Swartos said. “We feel really good about the process.”

There are two potential complications as states work to bring back high school sports and activities. There is the status of in-person classes — “To me, I think face-to-face and hybrid is a lot different than everything being online, but those are questions that we’re going to have to work through,” Swartos said — and the variance in risk from sport to sport.

South Dakota offers three “high risk” sports: football, competitive cheer and competitive dance. Those three (as well as wrestling in the winter) involve close, sustained contact between participants with a lack of significant protective barriers. This creates a high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants. As it pertains to the committee’s conversations, Swartos said they are discussing activities as a whole, but also looking at those sports with different risk factors individually. “There’s a lot of work still being done,” he said.

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If necessary, one possible approach — and the one taken by Minnesota — would be to not offer certain fall sports (as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach). Asked if that could be a possibility in South Dakota, Swartos said they’re still working through that component. “I don’t even want to wager a guess right now,” he said. “We want to get kids active, however that looks this fall.”

“Obviously the very largest question we have to answer is, ‘Is it safe to do this?'” Swartos added. “That’s something we’ll have to monitor continuously…until we get a vaccination. It’s not a question that we have an answer for right now. We have to see what happens in the next 3-4 weeks and move forward from there.”

Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.