JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Appearing with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Friday in a city-run gymnasium in East Arlington, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was lifting statewide restrictions on youth and recreational sports and summer camp so children can have a relatively normal summer.
The governor is leaving it up to local governments and organizations on how and when that will happen in each community and said the decision is ultimately up to parents on how they feel about their children associating with others.
“Our kids have been out of organized activities for several months now and we need a path to get it back," DeSantis said. “We trust parents to be able to make decisions. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, don’t do it. That’s fine."
Despite nearly 2,200 deaths in the state since the pandemic began, DeSantis said the data shows that no one under age 25 has died of COVID-19 and very few even required hospitalization.
“I think the data is pretty clear: Kids don’t seem to get infected at the same rates that adults get infected,” he said.
DeSantis said he was not going to set any rules for youth sports and camps, but expected the organizers of the events to use good judgment in keeping everyone safe.
“It’s important that we let kids be kids," Curry said at the news conference held at Ed Austin Regional Park. “Parents and coaches and local leaders -- those of us can use our best judgment to make sure we do it in a way that’s safe.”
Private organizations can take steps to start up right away. Curry said he hoped the city could release specific plans next week.
The Police Athletic League, which operates one its programs at the park that hosted Friday’s announcement, is already gearing up for local sports and summer camp programs that would involve more than 1,000 children.
“With any sports, we know that’s going to be a challenge -- keeping kids away from each other, from touching each other, surfaces and things like that,” said Mary Bishop of PAL. “We are still going to do our best to make sure we keep kids safe.”
Jacksonville reopened its parks two weeks ago, but athletic fields remained off-limits. Clay County announced Wednesday it would reopen its basketball courts and multipurpose fields on July 1. St. Johns County said that it was gathering information from youth programs from within the county on how they planned to adhere to CDC guidelines for various sports.
Parents’ initial reaction to the announcement was positive.
“I don’t think it would be a concern for me,” said Jeremy Bridgeman, who was playing catch Friday with his son Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was excited by the prospect of having more things to do.
“It’s been really hard staying inside and not being able to do anything,” he said. “We can’t go to the libraries and I can’t get any books to read.”
Across the state, youth and club sports have been radically affected by the pandemic.
The Amateur Athletic Union was planning to proceed with a volleyball event it has touted as the world’s largest, scheduled for June in Orlando, Florida. An event that drew nearly 3,000 teams last year had about 500 entrants when it was postponed until mid-July. Another marquee national event, the Little League World Series, was canceled entirely, including its regional rounds that would have no doubt seen local teams qualify for.
While it has been a strange spring for youth and club sports the summer is beginning to show signs that things are moving forward.
This week, the National Federation of State High School Associations also released guidelines that could guide the return of high school sports. The guidelines are very restrictive limiting the number of people that can participate and identifying sports that are lower risk, moderate risk, and higher risk with lower risk sports returning first.