Pandemic fatigue is sweeping over the country as surely and as dangerously as the COVID-19 virus itself. Everywhere you look, you can see the signs that many people are desperate to get back to the old “normal.”
We are sick and tired of fighting the virus. Unfortunately, the virus is not tired of making us sick. New infections are soaring to record levels, as are hospitalizations. While we hope not, a spike in deaths may not be far behind.
People want to get their kids back into classrooms with 25 or 30 other kids and a teacher. But virus experts like Leana S. Wen, the former Baltimore health commissioner who writes for the Washington Post, warns that it is too dangerous for families to gather indoors for Thanksgiving dinner.
High school sports have been another area where parents, athletes and some officials have been champing at the bit to get going. Gov. Larry Hogan was encouraging county school systems to start playing in October, but most declined to do so. We believe that was the correct decision.
Teams at the college and professional levels, with their vast financial resources, have been battling to contain outbreaks. Can local high schools, with far less money to spend on testing and tracing, do a better job? We tend to doubt that.
Now the State Board of Education has voted to move up the possible start date of the winter sports season by nearly two months. Previously, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association had devised a plan to start sports in the second-semester plan, a five-week winter sports season was set to begin Feb. 1.
Frederick County Public Schools — and most school systems around the state — agreed to go along with that plan, assuming that the pandemic had not worsened.
But with the pandemic still raging, the state board voted this week to move up the start date to Dec. 7.
Brad Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Education, in an interview with News-Post reporter Greg Swatek, was optimistic that the county will be able to follow the state recommendation.
“I think it is great, and we can make it work,” said Young, who acknowledged he was speaking only for himself and not the rest of the board. He said he wanted to put the issue on the board agenda for an upcoming meeting on Nov. 11 or Nov. 23. FCPS officials had previously expressed hope for an earlier start date to avoid overlaps between different sports.
It is going to take a lot of work and planning to make this a reality. The key really is to have a system for regular, frequent testing of all athletes and coaches.
“We are going to be examining the Dec. 7 option,” Kevin Kendro, FCPS supervisor of athletics, told our reporter. “It’s an option we were hoping to have, and we are going to continue the work of the Return to Play committee.”
If the team activities are allowed to begin on Dec. 7, the winter season for basketball, wrestling, indoor track and field and swimming and diving would start Jan. 4 and end Feb. 13. The fall season with football, soccer, volleyball, golf, cross-country and field hockey will run from Feb. 13 to April 17, with about a month of training before competition. Then, the spring season of baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis and outdoor track and field will be April 17 to June 19.
On both classroom instruction and sports and other extracurricular activities, we have always encouraged the school system to move forward expeditiously but to always put safety first.
We remain leery of starting sports in just a little over a month, but we have to believe that the system understands the importance of protecting the students, their families and the whole school staff.
That begins with vigorous testing, and on this, the system just cannot skimp. The risk is too great.