Health expert explains how high school sports can return sooner than later

NBC Sports Washington

No area of society has gone untouched by the novel coronavirus pandemic, including sports. After every level of athletics was rocked by the virus and forced to shut down in the spring, professional leagues have figured out ways to return to their fields of play in as safe a manner as possible. Meanwhile, decisions are still being made on the collegiate, high school and youth levels about when and how sports will return.

In our Playing Through COVID series, NBC Sports Washington will tell the story of those decisions and how they impact the people involved, including athletes, coaches, parents and more. The series launched with an interview of Dr. Sunil Budhrani, ER Physician, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Innovation Health. Watch the full interview here.

As the summer comes to an end and the fall is set to begin, almost all high schools across the DMV area plan to begin the school year with distance learning due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With no in-person classes, many high school sports seasons have been put on pause for now.

Anyone with any interest in high school athletics in the DMV area is itching to know when sports will return. On Wednesday, NBC Sports Washington's Chad Ricardo had the chance to sit down with Dr. Sunil Budhrani as part of the Playing Through COVID series to discuss what needs to occur for high school sports to return as quickly as possible.


In the conversation, Dr. Budhrani explained why this fall could be difficult for sports to return.

"I'm no magician, but taking the data, my realistic prediction is it's going to be a tough fall," Dr. Budhrari said. "It's going to be a tough fall because COVID hasn't gone away and cases are still going up. That's key. Flu season will be here in late August, September, October. Flu season has similar symptoms as COVID. We will have a flu season and a COVID continuation."

While Dr. Budhrani did not want to put a specific date on it, he explained that in his opinion, it's hard to imagine high school football returning before the end of fall.

"But realistically speaking, I don't see high school football, unless those changes occur happening before late fall," Budhrani said. "COVID is a moving target. Weeks feel like months these days. We'll see how it plays out."


In the DMV area, most high school conferences and athletic organizations have already announced they are not planning on having fall sports competitions.

Last week, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) announced that all high school athletic competitions will be postponed until the start of the second semester, which begins in late January in the state.

The WCAC, a private school conference with member schools in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia, has canceled fall sports and is exploring options for a January start. The state of Virginia announced the postponement of all fall and winter sports, while the District of Columbia simarly announced all interscholastic sports were postponed until January.

Budhrani does think there is a pathway for high school sports to return early next year, or even later in 2020, but only if people follow the guidelines and protocols recommended by health officials.

"If we get down to that point [where people are following proper guidelines], then I think it's possible that we could be seeing football and we could be doing indoor basketball in December," Budhrani said.

And as he stressed throughout the entire interview, Budhrani said that if people follow the proper social distancing guidelines, wash their hands and wear a mask, cases should continue to decrease over time and create a pathway for high school sports to return.

"The more time we have, the greater ability we have to do all of the precautions I mentioned to decrease the number of cases," Budhrani said.

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