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New spectator policies at local school districts causing confusion amid fall sports season

Many local school districts have seemingly adopted new policies preventing spectators in the stands for high school games. NEWSChannel 2 is attempting to find out where these directives are coming from.

Posted: Oct 20, 2020 1:40 AM
Updated: Oct 20, 2020 3:11 AM

WKTV - If a sports game is played and no one is there to watch it, did it really happen? This fall we may find out.

It's been a much different high school fall sports season thus far in 2020, with no football, competitive cheer or volleyball. Masks are required on the field and attendance has been limited.

After two weeks of competition, things appear to be changing even more within our area.

Upon arriving at a local high school on Monday, I was turned away and told that no spectators - or media representatives - were allowed on the premises.

The reasoning given was that only 50 people were allowed on the premises at a time, including players on the field, coaches, trainers, officials and staff, preventing any additional people from being able to watch the game.

The bleachers were eerily empty.

Earlier in the day, I was informed by a viewer and parent of a varsity student-athlete at a local school district that their school had released a new policy preventing spectators from attending their team's games.

After being turned away from a different district with a similar policy later that night, it certainly didn't seem like a coincidence.

In fact, shortly after leaving the site of the fan-less soccer game, I received another email from a viewer in a separate school district within the area that the same policy had been enacted there too.

At this time, I have reached out to school officials around the area and am awaiting confirmation regarding these policies.

Many of these announcements received from viewers attributed the new policy to guidelines set forth by Oneida County, or the Oneida County Department of Health.

NEWSChannel 2 reached out to Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. for clarification on this and received this statement:

"The State of New York is, and has been since the beginning of this pandemic, the only government that sets capacity limits for public gatherings. The Governor's executive orders clearly detail that no more than 50 people can attend a public gathering, furthermore the Executive Orders make clear that local county governments must enforce these orders. Oneida County continues to enforce these orders to the best of our ability. My only goal is to mitigate the spread of the virus so people don't get sick and die and so we can keep this community open.

"I recognize the importance of School functions and activities like sports. However, I do believe it is much more important for kids to be in the classroom than on the football field. In order to make that happen we must continue to mitigate the spread of this virus and I stand ready to work with any school district to help put their kids back into their buildings and seated at their desks."

Picente told NEWSChannel 2 that there have been no new guidelines or policies implemented by Oneida County at this time, and that, as mentioned above, the County continues to follow the previous guidance set forth by state health officials and Governor Cuomo's office.

In New York State's latest guidance for sports and recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic, spectator rules are as follows:

  • Limit to two spectators in attendance per player
  • Capacity limited to no more than 50% of venue's maximum occupancy
  • Physical distance of at least six feet required among all individuals not within same household, whether indoors or outdoor
    • Masks required if social distancing guidelines are unable to be maintained

It appears a major cause for confusion is in the interpretation of the public gathering limit. The state currently limits events deemed as "social gatherings" to 50 people or less. However, it is not specifically stated whether or not a sporting event, within the parameters of the sports and recreation guidance, fall under that same restriction.

There are no references to a 50 person limit within the specific guidelines set for sports and recreation, there is just a limit to two spectators per athlete and that social distancing must be practiced.

What is specifically referenced is the 50% capacity limit, which would allow for more than 50 people on the premises for most outdoor athletic venues in the area where spectators could spread out on the bleachers.

For professional sports teams, there are still no spectators allowed in attendance, whether at indoor or outdoor facilities, in New York State at this time. This illustrates a separation for gathering limits based on different types of activity.

I have reached out to Athletic Directors for school districts within the NEWSChannel 2 viewing area for more information on each district's policy, as well as, officials within Section III and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) to see if any new guidance has been enacted on a larger level. I am currently awaiting responses.

Stay with NEWChannel 2 for updates regarding this story as more information becomes available.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1650303

Reported Deaths: 47719
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