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First Tee of the Triad golfer Darren Lee during the Wyndham Championship pro-am in 2018.

The return of baseball, softball and other limited contact sports has gained the recommendation of state health officials with two pivotal public-health requirements.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released a set of return-to-play guidance late Friday.

The guidance recommends adhering to "limiting sports activities to those in which participants can maintain social distance, or close contact is limited and brief."

Besides baseball and softball, other sports included are curling, cycling, dance, disc golf, diving, figure skating, golf, horseback riding, pickleball, swimming, tennis and track and field.

Meanwhile, DHHS is not recommending currently sports activities "for which participants cannot maintain social distancing and close contact is frequent and/or prolonged."

Included in that category are sports that have frequent physical contact as a prominent feature of play, such as basketball, competitive cheerleading, football, hockey, lacrosse, rugby, soccer and wrestling.

"These sports typically require coaches and athletes who are not from the same household or living unit to be in close proximity, which increases their potential for exposure to COVID-19," DHHS said.

"For these sports, it is recommended that activities are limited to athletic conditioning, drills and practices in which dummy players, sleds, punching bags and similar equipment are used. but athletes are not playing the actual sport itself.

"These activities can allow athletes to condition and prepare for sports if and when they are played in the future."

All events would be required to adhere to the mass gatherings restrictions of no more than 10 individuals inside and no more than 25 outside unless the events qualify for certain exceptions. Social distancing of at least six feet is required in dugouts and areas where players wait to enter competition.

"Consider workouts in groups/pods of individuals within the same group always work out together, including weight training, to limit exposure should someone become sick," according to the DHHS guidance.

"Remind individuals not to shake hands, give high fives or fist bumps before, during or after the game or practice."

DHHS "strongly recommends that athletes, coaches, staff and participants wear a cloth face covering when not actively engaged in physical play, or when they may be near (less than 6 feet from) other people."

For example, there have been suggestions by some public health officials that catchers and umpires wear a cloth face mask during active play, as well as replacing a baseball or softball when it has been touched by more than two people during play.

Organizers of sports events are recommended to "have a plan in place for immediately removing" participants if someone shows symptoms of COVID, and not allow one with symptoms to be at the surroundings.

The DHHS guidance was released four days after the National Federation of State High School Associations provided recommendations to consider when deciding when to resume athletics and other extracurricular activities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association is a NFHS member but is not bound by the guidelines, which would be superseded by state and local regulations.

High school spring sports were halted by the NCHSAA after contests held March 13 and basketball state championship games were not played.

The association is suspending the coronavirus-related dead period June 1, but that does not mean sports workouts at its member schools will resume then. The NCHSAA said state and local governments, including the governor and local school districts, must first approve the resumption of athletics.

Lower-risk sports in which NCHSAA athletes compete include: cross country running with staggered starts, golf, individual running events, throwing events, individual swimming, sideline cheerleading and weightlifting.

Moderate-risk sports include: baseball, basketball, field hockey, girls lacrosse, gymnastics, high jump, pole vault, soccer, softball, swimming relays, tennis, volleyball and 7-on-7 football.

Higher-risk sports include: boys lacrosse, competitive cheer and dance, football and wrestling.

rcraver@wsjournal.com

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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