Some Miss. school districts canceling basketball games due to COVID-19 concerns

High school basketball presents greater COVID-19 risk

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With coronavirus cases already triggering postponements and cancellations of football games this year comes the big question: will that happen with high school basketball?

Not on a statewide level, according to guidance from the Mississippi High School Activities Association.

Districts have the ability to suspend or cancel their seasons independent of the MHSAA, though many in the Jackson metro have said this will likely only happen to individual games if and when outbreaks occur.

While the season may have already tipped off for most schools, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs and others are worried this particular indoor activity could lead to more coronavirus outbreaks.

“You know, basketball worries us greatly. We know the indoor environments are so much more risky. There was a an analysis of an outbreak and a hockey team, CDC did. And one person gave it to like 22 people on the ice rink. So that sort of thing demonstrates in the wrong setting, people breathing hard indoors, close proximity, [we’re] very worried about it," Dobbs said Thursday. “I would just like to say very clearly to everybody: don’t go to a sporting event. It’s not safe right now.”

Dobbs said he understands parents going to support their children, but recommends against observers going to watch the game.

Last week, the Greenville Public School District’s Board of Trustees voted to cancel winter sports, including basketball, due to the increase in coronavirus cases there, according to a report from the Delta Democrat Times.

Clinton Public School District spokesperson Robert Chapman said administrators even had to shut down their basketball program for two weeks because of at least one case of coronavirus.

However, he doesn’t believe that indoor sports automatically cause outbreaks and said the steps the district is taking -- requiring masks, social distancing, limiting crowds -- will work.

“We saw it work all the way through volleyball season. Volleyball was a fall sport, and it was held within a gym, masks were worn there and everything tended to go relatively smoothly," Chapman said. “The same things gonna hopefully happen with basketball. We have a fraction of a number of people who can be inside.”

Chapman says the district is selling tickets digitally to make sure they only sell 25 percent of capacity, the current restriction established by Gov. Tate Reeves' executive order.

Other school districts, like the Rankin County School District, will also utilize a digital ticket delivery system to ensure limits on tickets sold, according to district spokesperson Sharon Patrick.

“In reference to basketball, we are continuing to follow the guidelines and recommendations of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, the Mississippi Department of Health, and the Executive Orders issued by the Governor,” Patrick said in an emailed statement.

Those guidelines include placing team benches away from the stands where possible, limiting contact between players when substituting, suspending pregame and postgame handshakes and eliminating team walks through fan zones.

The Madison County School District has begun moving some of their basketball games to larger gyms with as much seating as possible so they can space fans out, according to director of communications Gene Wright.

They’re also closely monitoring any potential outbreaks.

“If we have a team or a group, or a class, any kind of activity with three positive cases or more, that’s our tipping point, to then quarantine that whole team or group or class to mitigate spread," Wright said. "We do not want to be part of spreading this illness.”

Jackson Public Schools, which implemented district-wide virtual learning procedures for the entire school year and canceled fall sports, could bring back high school basketball and soccer as early as next month, spokesperson Sherwin Johnson said.

“If social distancing is feasible and modifications are made, JPS intends to resume its high school basketball and soccer programs in December 2020 and middle school in January 2021,” Johnson said in a statement. “Due to the fluid nature of the circumstances, these plans are subject to change.”

Johnson said the JPS athletics team is developing guidelines that may include: transporting teams to sporting events, limiting the number of players and team participants, spectator seating arrangements, requiring masks to enter, and changing the game dismissal process to reduce overcrowding.

There will also be hand sanitization stations throughout school gyms and game facilities and pre-packaged food sold at concession stands to ensure safety, Johnson added.

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