As the fall high school sports season and the return of in-person education approaches, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state Department of Public Health and Gov. Ned Lamont are continuing to urge student-athletes to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
At a press conference Tuesday at Veterans Stadium in New Britain, CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini, Gov. Lamont and state health officials advocated for inoculation, and explained the benefits for athletes.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure you’re going to be in school, and you’re going to be on the playing field at the very start of the school year and right through the school year,” said Lamont, who also announced that masks will continued to be required in school through the end of September.
“It’s the best way to learn, it’s the best way to be with your friends, it’s the best way to be on the ball field. We are going to win. We have a little bit of work we’ve got to do. We really need you to [get vaccinated]. It’s for your safety, it’s for your team so that nobody has to step off the field.”
According to state data last updated Thursday, 47.2% of 12-15-year-olds are fully vaccinated, while 56.3% of those 16-24 are. The CIAC announced last week that vaccinated individuals would not have to quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19 and remain asymptomatic, while those unvaccinated would need to quarantine for 14 days, or 10 days with a negative test. Lungarini reaffirmed Tuesday that the CIAC will not issue a vaccine mandate for its athletes.
Football teams — which were barred from game play last fall — began organized team activities on Thursday, with full-contact practices set to start Aug. 21. Football, soccer, field hockey, girls swimming and girls volleyball can hold competitions starting Sept. 9, while golf will start Aug. 30.
Members of the Bloomfield High football and track and field teams and the New Britain football team were in attendance, as well as Xavier senior Drew Kron, the team’s starting quarterback and a UConn baseball commit.
“We want to ensure that we have not only a full season, but a full school year,” Kron said. “Football games, homecoming, prom and other school events will be able to take place if we take the charge to get vaccinated.”
Bloomfield principal Dan Moleti said that the school has partnered with the Bloomfield and West Hartford health departments to offer vaccines to students during the school day starting in December. In Bloomfield, 36.24% of those 12-17 are fully vaccinated, while 46.4% have received their first shot.
Vaccine hesitancy among students and their families will continue to be a challenge. Bloomfield athletic director Tammy Schondelmayer said the focus is on delivering accurate information.
“They all have their own opinions about what is good and what will work for their family,” she said. “That’s hard, because it’s hard to try and tell a family, ‘We think this is what’s right for you,’ when they think something different. We just want them to understand that we’re trying to do the best for kids, we want them to be safe, we want them to be healthy.”
Lungarini echoed Schondelymayer’s remarks.
“Our purpose is educate first,” Lungarini said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. We’ve partnered with DPH to educate people on the benefits of the vaccine, and how that will help them stay in in-person instruction as well as be able to stay on the field to play. We educate on that, but again we’re not mandating that.”
In New Britain, just 27.47% of those aged 12-17 are fully vaccinated, while 34.91% have received the first dose. Golden Hurricanes baseball coach Roberto Mercado said he has talked with families about the importance of being vaccinated.
“It’s our job. Creating those relationships with parents and families and encouraging them, ‘Hey, this is going to benefit your kid, whether it’s colleges wanting to see your son play, if that’s an opportunity,’ that’s one way to go about it,” he said. “The other is just being able to attend school. I want to say about 96% of my players stayed home all year. Some of them did extremely well and some of them struggled. I think it’s important that they’re in person, and obviously being vaccinated is the thing to do.”
Shawn McFarland can be reached at email@example.com.