As is the case elsewhere in the nation — and much of the world — coronavirus cases are rapidly rising in the Granite State as the weather cools, people are spending more time indoors, and many of us are frustrated and tired enough of social-distancing to let down our guard.
This was, experts have said, somewhat inevitable. Even at the height of the virus’ “first wave,” there were many who refused to wear masks, or to maintain an appropriate distance from others. People still partied, held packed events and, as soon as it was allowed, flocked to bars and restaurants. All the while, those who were actually paying attention predicted that, come fall and winter, the virus would rebound with a vengeance.
The timing of this rebound is bad in several ways. It coincides with cold and flu season, which may make it harder to diagnose which ailment someone is suffering through, and which can weaken the resistance of some to the coronavirus. It also comes at a time when many students have returned to schools and colleges, and are eyeing a more-active return to extracurricular activities, such as sports.
To be sure, schools in the Monadnock Region have been cautious with the pandemic, and largely successful in protecting students and staff. Even so, most returned to athletic competition this fall. With the N.H. Interscholastic Athletic Association pushing back the start time to the season, but then leaving it to individual schools whether to play each sport, the fall season has been a patchwork endeavor.
At first, Monadnock Regional High School was the only local school to announce plans to play some sports. But as the season drew near, and COVID seemed to be receding, others joined in. Keene High students competed in fishing, golf and cross-country — sports in which social-distancing is easy to observe — but also to a limited degree in field hockey, volleyball, soccer and football, which are closer contact sports. This past week brought the cancellation of Keene High’s soccer, volleyball and cross-country tournament participation, based on the risk involved and the district’s COVID guidelines.
That’s a sign that school officials are taking things seriously, backing away where necessary. And that’s good to see, since the NHIAA has announced plans for the Division I winter sports season — again delaying the start of practices, but letting the schools decide on their level of participation.
Keene High School athletic director Mike Atkins noted the school isn’t ready to start holding tryouts and needs to think hard about venues for winter sports such as swimming. Hockey, a major winter sport for Keene High, could also be dicey, since the school’s home rink, Keene Ice, was recently shut down for two weeks over virus concerns at other rinks in the state.
Canceling or curtailing sports seasons is a hard decision to make. Not only is it a blow to community morale, but also the athletes involved, especially seniors, may never recapture the missed opportunity to compete at that level. That was a hard reality last spring, when local teams vying for state winter championships saw their dreams dashed by the pandemic, and spring seasons weren’t even held.
But as officials, athletes and parents start planning for the winter seasons, they ought to be wary of the state’s growing coronavirus numbers and continue to put health and safety first.