As the Big 12 Conference announced Wednesday that football and other fall sports would take place, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman told reporters that it would put players and spectators alike at "an increased risk" for spreading COVID-19.
He pointed to the decision of two other conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-12, to cancel fall sports, including ones deemed to be a high risk of spreading the virus, such as football, volleyball and soccer.
"Those are by definition large gatherings," Norman said at his weekly press briefing. "There is no question that both to the athletes themselves and to the spectators, coaching staff it is an increased risk. The Big Ten and Pac-12 I’m sure didn’t make those decisions lightly."
The Big 12 has said athletes will be tested three times a week in "high-contact" sports like football, volleyball and soccer. Those who are infected and later seek to return to play will be assessed with EKGs, blood tests and MRIs, the conference said.
"Opinions vary regarding the best path forward, as we’ve seen throughout higher education and our society overall, but we are comfortable in our institutions’ ability to provide a structured training environment, rigorous testing and surveillance, hospital-quality sanitation and mitigation practices that optimize the health and safety of our student-athletes," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement.
Kansas State University has said "limited" numbers of fans will be allowed to attend football games at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, although the exact number will be determined after consultations with local health officials.
University of Kansas Athletics has not indicated how many fans will be allowed at any of their five home football games, but said the program was preparing for the season "cautiously."
Norman acknowledged it would likely be "impractical" to quarantine all those who attend games in person.
"What we would hope is people be judicious, they use control measures such as they can," he said.
As for grade-school students, Norman said he was hopeful that local school officials and parents would heed public health guidelines after Attorney General Derek Schmidt released legal guidance on Tuesday noting that mitigation strategies, such as mask wearing or temperature checks, could be left up to county and school board officials.
That comes despite an executive order from Gov. Laura Kelly in July requiring some of those measures statewide.
Such issues "aren’t legal questions," he said.
"I would hope that because people have the option to not wear masks if that is what the case is under the attorney general’s guidance, I would hope that people would still look to public health guidance and do the things that are necessary to prevent infections in children," Norman said.
It comes as more and more young people across the state are contracting the virus, according to Chris Brown, a doctor and professor of internal medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Brown said the age range of patients now spans 18- or 19-year-olds all the way to those in their 90s. KDHE data as of Wednesday showed that children accounted for 9% of all new cases in the state.
"I think the younger population is starting to get hospitalized more, get sick more," he said.