By Arthur L. Caplan & Lee H. Igel
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida says it is time for kids to have some summer fun playing sports and going to camp together again. After two months of shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, sports leagues, summer camps and organized recreation activities across the state are now being allowed to reopen. Beyond the symptom screening, sanitizing and social distancing, what needs to be done to help ensure that kids can go running, jumping, swimming, kicking and screaming in a safe way?
Florida has had something of an early lead when it comes to managing sports in coronavirus times. In mid-April, with professional sports suspended, WWE was cleared to stage wrestlers-only television events after DeSantis designated “professional sports and media production with a national audience” at a location “closed to the general public” as essential services. And throughout the pandemic, the NBA and MLB have been among the major leagues exploring plans for restarting their seasons at sites in Florida, including Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. But those decisions have concerned paid adults—not kids—getting back in the game.
The decision to lift restrictions on youth sports and recreation activities, according to an announcement from DeSantis, was based on a few key factors. One is the low COVID-19 infection rate among children. Another is concern for children’s physical and emotional health. A third is what youth sports and recreation programs could contribute to local communities and economies.
Florida has recorded just over 50,000 of the more than 1.6 million COVID-19 cases in the United States to date, according to Johns Hopkins data tracking. The state has also recorded about 2,200 of the more than 100,000 deaths across the country. There are all sorts of suggestions as to what is leading to those relatively low rates in Florida—from public response to social distancing measures and disaster response from experience with hurricanes to early orders banning outside visitors from entering nursing homes and restricting COVID-positive patients from returning to nursing homes after they were sent to hospitals. Meanwhile, like many places around the nation and the world, Florida hasn’t been without its share of people missing the point. Crowding at popular public places, especially beaches and bars, has made headlines. So, too, have questions about officials manipulating data to make the coronavirus case numbers appear better than they might actually be.
In any case, Florida appears to be weathering the pandemic in good enough condition to begin reopening many services. One of the last states to issue a “safer-at-home” order, it is one of the first states to go ahead with opening up organized sports and recreation activities.
Sports and recreation are an important part of healthy childhood. Sports and recreation promote lifelong physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth