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If there is a fall sports season, it will be epic

By Clark Brooks, Editor & Publisher

The fall sports season should be epic this year.

I can't wait to get back to work covering Spartan football. I can't wait for the upcoming volleyball season because I think SJO is definitely a final four contender next November. I'm looking forward to questioning coach Abby McDonald if her squad is in system after a big game.

The soccer team has a new head coach and will have a new look with a number of players whose stories I can't wait to share.

I believe it will be an epic season because the stakes will be higher. Every player worth their salt will practice like it could be their last. Every game could be the last one of the season. Every week, every match or game, yesterday's practice could be the last. Every moments with teammates and coaches will be precious.

At anytime, as we experienced in March, the fall sports season could vanish into oblivion, pulled out from under us with a rug in the shape of an executive order. If that happens, you can bet winter sports won't be happening this academic year either.

The prospect of no winter sports, especially wrestling, when I hope to witness senior Isaiah Immke place take his place on one of the top three spots in his weight class on the IHSA podium, would be tragic. Honestly, I've looked forward to watching Immke enjoy success as a Spartan athlete for nearly a decade after he asked if I was legendary Spartan kicker Nick Krisman's dad at a SJO softball game. I was flattered, and to this day still find his innocent question amusing.

All of this is assuming that level of infections from the Coronavirus declines to requisite numbers over the next three months. Unfortunately as I write this, I have a hard time seeing the start of the fall sports season.

As it stands at the moment, according to the Governor's Restore Illinois plan, the state or areas of it, would need to reach Phase Four of the plan for schools to open. The Revitalization stage is when gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed with this limit subject to change based on latest data and guidance. Schools from Pre-K to 12, higher education, all summer programs, and child care will open with Illinois Department of Public Health approved safety guidelines.

Here is what's needed:

Cases and Capacity: The determination of moving from Phase 3 to Phase 4 will be driven by the COVID-19 positivity rate in each region and measures of maintaining regional hospital surge capacity. This data will be tracked from the time a region enters Phase 3, onwards.

•At or under a 20 percent positivity rate and increasing no more than 10 percentage points over a 14-day period, AND
•No overall increase (i.e. stability or decrease) in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days, AND
•Available surge capacity of at least 14 percent of ICU beds, medical and surgical beds, and ventilators

Testing: Testing available in region regardless of symptoms or risk factors

Tracing: Begin contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis for more than 90% of cases in region

At this point, schools reopening and sports resuming around the state isn't looking promising when we are currently stuck at Phase Two and the likelihood of moving to beyond three by August a pipe dream for a couple of reasons.

Considering that nearly every state that borders Illinois is opening up, a combination of warm weather and frustrated/bored Illinoisans traveling outside of the our state for a taste of 'freedom' will either become infected or drag one of the 14 thus far identified strains to their hometowns. Visitors to the state or passing through from Missouri, Iowa and and Indiana will ignite a hot spots that might possibly radiates into an entire region.

If epidemiologists' projections are correct, this will likely push the state back to Phase Two and we are all shelling again. Students are back in the living room attending digital class and parents back in their role as employee-teachers for an even longer round of sheltering-in-place.

Meanwhile, the Hoosiers next door have already announced that "school sponsored summer activities may resume on July 1, 2020." Providing his state's pandemic indicators make the anticipated decline, Governor Eric Holcomb's five-step plan has Indiana completely open on July 1. The Indiana High School Athletic Association released a statement last Wednesday that would allow for high school athletes and coaches to practice on school grounds on that day.

In a Facebook Live interview with State Rep. Emanuel Welch (D-Westchester), Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Carmen Ayala did not offer a reassuring outlook. She said parents should be prepared to continue homeschooling their children in the fall as the state's K-12 schools could remain closed according to a story from Prairie State Wire.

Ayala is suggesting school district superintendents "have a plan A, a plan B and a plan C" for the upcoming academic year.

Then, there is the issue of a second wave. Most likely areas of the country will see a resurgence in late October, early November when the temperature and humidity will become more favorable for the virus according scientist who study viruses. Anything short of a vaccine and I'll be stuck covering local campaigns and zoom school board meetings.

Not exactly the epic fall I'm expecting.

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