"The governor has been very clear about that: there are no plans to do that," Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.By Amy Wadas

HARRISBURG (KDKA/AP) — If the PIAA votes to go against the governor and play fall sports, the Wolf administration won’t turn its strong “no sports” recommendation into an order.

The PIAA board plans to make a final decision on fall sports when it meets this Friday.

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Should the PIAA decide to go against the state’s strong recommendation of no scholastic and recreational youth sports until 2021, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said the administration won’t issue a mandate.

“The governor has been very clear about that. There are no plans to do that,” Dr. Levine said Tuesday.

Dr. Levine says they’ve been using data from other states, since school sports haven’t started yet in Pennsylvania. She says there’s been “a significant increase” in the number of young people under 19 years old with coronavirus, though health officials haven’t been able to track it to a specific game or practice.

She says this increase is concerning.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee held a hearing Tuesday with the PIAA to discuss how to safely have school sports in the fall.

The PIAA Executive Director, Dr. Robert Lombardi, is stressing fall sports won’t stop if there are no high school sports. He says athletes will just find other venues.

“Strict adherence by schools and teams to a school-adopted plan and the governor’s school sports guidance should provide for athletes to participate in sports as scheduled,” said Lombardi.

He said “it’s worth at least attempting a fall sports program.”

Lombardi said it’s not fair to compare high school sports to college sports. He said high school athletes typically travel from county to county, not across the country, and they go home once a game is done as opposed to communal living like a dorm.

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However, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has concerns of her own.

“If you’re going to have PIAA sports, they’re going to be traveling sometimes two or more hours on buses all together,” said Levine. “That mixing is really counterproductive and can lead to the spread of COVID-19.”

The governing body for Pennsylvania interscholastic sports signaled again Monday that it’s seriously considering moving ahead with the fall season despite the governor’s recommendation that all youth athletics be canceled until 2021.

“We feel fairly comfortable that we can get school sports up and running,” Melissa Mertz, associate executive director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, said in a radio interview.

The PIAA had been making plans to start the season as scheduled when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration issued a “strong recommendation” in early August that scholastic and recreational youth sports be put off until January to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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The surprise announcement prompted the PIAA to push back the start of mandatory sports practices for two weeks while it decided its next move.

“We were shocked by that because up until that point we had not received any pushback” from the Wolf administration on restarting sports, Mertz said Monday on WITF’s “Smart Talk.” “It’s caused us to tap the brakes.”

The Wolf administration says that youth sports increase the risk of spreading the virus and should be canceled for now. It noted the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other college conferences have postponed football and other fall sports because of the pandemic.

“Athletes are in close contact, not just on the field but in locker rooms and in transit. The virus is not stopping and spreads more easily when people are in close contact,” said the governor’s spokesperson, Lyndsay Kensinger. “Minimizing our exposure to COVID-19 is paramount. Our focus remains on safely getting students back to learning and, if possible, in the classroom.”

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