State eases youth sports COVID restrictions, but don't expect it to be back to normal

If you're a parent, there is a good chance that your kids are itching to play organized sports. Can't say that we blame them. Because of the pandemic, many youth sports leagues this year had to postpone or cancel seasons altogether.

Last week the state loosened COVID-19 restrictions for youth sports. And while that's welcome news for young athletes, it doesn't necessarily mean that games will necessarily happen right away.

The way the state has it right now, youth sports are divided into risk categories.

Low-risk sports include tennis, swimming, pickleball, golf, cross-country, track-and-field, sideline/no-contact cheer, and disc golf.

Moderate risk sports are deemed softball, baseball, t-ball, futsal, volleyball, lacrosse, flag football, ultimate frisbee, ice hockey, cricket, gymnastics, crew, field hockey, and school bowling competitions.

High-risk sports: football, rugby, wrestling, cheerleading with contact, dance with contact, basketball, water polo, martial arts competitions, roller derby.

Other guidelines include tournaments and spectators, who are prohibited in counties that are not in the low-risk COVID category. 

That being said, Dr. Jonathan Drezner, a University of Washington sports medicine physician, and director of UW's Center for Sports Cardiology, the decision to play sports, is not so cut-and-dry.

Drezner said guidance depends on the sport and the number of COVID-19 cases in the county.

"The risks in different sports varies. The amount of face-to-face close interaction, breathing heavily on each other. Some sports that seem just more likely, other sports, they're quite far apart," said Drezner.

Soccer, for example, is less likely to spread COVID-19 since close contact is brief, such as with side tackles and shoulder-to-shoulder contact, and it's an outdoor sport, he said.

"I think that while the risk is not zero, when we're talking about outdoor sports with very short, fleeting interactions, the risk seems to be low and that's reassuring. We're seeing that at the college level, as well as the professional level. So when I think when you apply that to the better metrics in the state, and you think about youth sports, there's an opportunity to move forward," said Drezner.

There is a higher chance of COVID spread in football and basketball because players are face-to-face through most of the game, Drezner said.

Ultimately, however, it's up to the parents to balance out the risk factors, but also the mental and emotional toll this has on kids where athletics is a key part of their life.

Check here for more on the latest of the state's guidance on youth sports.