Last updated May 2, 2021.
On this page: Guidance rationale | Guidance for all phases | Collegiate sports | Facility considerations | Spectators | Screening and best prevention practices | Suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 | Tournaments, transportation, and travel | Sport risk categories based on various factors | Recommendations by dial level
Organized youth recreational and adult amateur leagues, club sports, interscholastic, and other organization-sponsored athletics must adhere to state and local orders and restrictions, and operate with strong precautionary measures, as specified in the guidance below. The more participants who are vaccinated, the less precautionary measures need to be taken as there is less risk.
The transmission control strategies for COVID-19 that follow can be applied to other settings where physical activity and forced exhalation occur, and parks and recreation staff (or their equivalent) and state sporting governing bodies are encouraged to enforce these guidelines.
Sports settings such as professional or collegiate entities should adhere to the specific guidelines for their governing body and specifications in public health orders.
In the event of a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 outbreak in a sports team, club, or school, public health may require additional restrictions in order to reduce the spread of disease.
Participating in sports with and against other individuals in any capacity during this pandemic holds an inherent risk of infection for participants, especially if they have not been fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated participants who become infected may also spread the virus to others, such as their household members. Stakeholders in organized sports must consider the risks and benefits of participation in their plans for resuming organized sports. Adherence to public health guidelines is essential to minimize risk and disruptions to athletic activities. Organizers must also be familiar with recommendations from their national, state, and local governing bodies regarding illness (including, but not limited to, COVID-19).
The risk of COVID-19 spread can vary depending on the:
- Number of people with whom a player or coach interacts.
- Type of physical interaction.
- Length of time of the close interaction.
- Sharing of equipment across multiple players.
- Environment of play (e.g. indoors vs. outdoors).
- Layers of protection that are in place, including:
- Physical distancing.
- Hand hygiene.
- Cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, etc.
Physical exertion, including sports, involves forced exhalation, which may increase the risk of transmission, similar to singing or playing certain musical instruments. Therefore, it’s recommended that all unvaccinated participants and spectators keep at least 6 feet of physical distance from people outside their immediate households. Infection control measures applied collectively, such as screening, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and masks where appropriate are especially important given that many sports involve close contact of individuals at various times during training or competition.
Athletes who develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 will need to isolate, and their close contacts will need to quarantine; public health will determine who is a close contact. Athletes, teams, and organizations should hold each other accountable to follow guidelines and ensure compliance with infection control measures during and beyond play. Behaviors and decisions of participants outside the sports setting may impact the ability of the entire team to participate in training or competition if a single athlete or coach becomes exposed or ill.
Teams that desire to practice and compete without disruption are strongly advised to take these recommendations seriously.
Athletic scouts and recruiters are encouraged to rethink how they evaluate athletes so as not to encourage unsafe practices and competition and unintentionally put athletes and programs at risk.
Competition creates motivation for athletes. Coaches and athletic organizations are encouraged to instill discipline in athletes and find new ways to motivate athletes during times when competition is too risky. Athletes can be encouraged to practice discipline, set goals, and continue to engage in their sport in different ways to foster motivation while aligning with safe practices.
Gathering Size and Cohorts
- Capacity recommendations per court/field:
- In counties with 36-100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 50 athletes
- In counties with 101-300 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 25 athletes
- In counties with 301+ COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 10 athletes
- Cohorting is the practice of maintaining a stable group with fixed membership. Cohorting facilitates disease control by minimizing the number of new contacts each individual interacts with and limits the scope of dismissal and closure activities in the event of a detected case of COVID-19 or other disease.
- Cohort athletes on teams and, to the greatest extent possible, maintain the integrity of the cohorts the kids may already be participating in at school. Ensure appropriate communication between teams and other institutions where an athlete may be in another cohort, such as their school.
Considering Risk of Activities
- All athletes and participants should be aware that different sports pose different risks.
- In general, outdoor sports present less risk than indoor sports. As much as possible, indoor airflow should be encouraged by ventilating spaces and opening windows. Even with these considerations, outdoor sports present less risk.
- Sports in which at least 6 feet or more of space between athletes can be consistently maintained present less risk than sports where participants come in closer contact with each other.
- Highest risk is presented in sports which involve players coming into physical contact with each other.
- Wrestling, for example, is a high risk sport which is often held indoors and includes long direct exposures between competitors.
Masks are strongly recommended indoors for anyone who has not yet been fully vaccinated.
Masks should not be worn during the following activities:
Aquatics, where a wet mask would be a choking hazard.
Wrestling, where a mask could easily be caught or dislodged.
Spirit, only during high-intensity maneuvers where the mask might get caught or dislodged.
It is recommended for players to bring multiple spare masks to replace sweaty masks as needed.
If an unvaccinated player or participant cannot medically tolerate wearing a mask where one is required, the athlete may obtain a medical exemption from a medical professional.
Collegiate sports should follow the guidelines for their governing body and specifications in public health orders. In order to continue hosting sports activities and contests, collegiate sports organizations must work with their conference to develop a plan for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, then submit the plan to CDPHE for approval.
Before engaging in collegiate sports, the team should ensure they have taken the following measures:
- Consulted any and all guidelines from the governing bodies of their institution and conference.
- Made a plan to adhere to all local public health orders.
- Worked with their conference to develop a plan for mitigating spread of COVID-19 and submitted this plan to the local public health agency (LPHA).
- Received written plan approval from the LPHA and CDPHE.
- Host practices and play outdoors as much as possible. Outdoor environments are less risky than indoor environments.
- Maximize ventilation and increase circulation of outdoor air, referencing ASHRAE guidance, when it is not feasible to be outside.
- The use of locker rooms is strongly discouraged, and they should only be used when absolutely necessary for player safety. In those limited circumstances, limit or stagger access to accommodate physical distancing, reduce the number of people in the locker room at one time, and maximize ventilation and air turnover.
- Regularly clean and disinfect locker rooms or changing areas if they must be used.
- Masks are strongly encouraged indoors for anyone who has not been vaccinated. Facilities may require mask-wearing.
- Assess athletic facilities and determine the need to reorganize equipment, venue entry/exit, venue layout, directional arrows and signage to prevent people from congregating.
- Minimize shared equipment and create a plan for cleaning using CDPHE's cleaning guidance.
- Do not allow athletes to share towels, clothing, or other items they use to wipe their faces or hands.
- Stagger training and competition times to allow time for cleaning/disinfection of equipment and facilities and avoid overlapping arrival/departure of teams and cohorts.
- Spectators must be hosted according to the indoor or outdoor events guidance, depending on the setting of the game. All teams engaged in play are responsible for ensuring these guidelines are followed by spectators.
- When counting attendees for indoor events, competitors are not included in the count.
- If there are multiple games happening at different sections of the field, spectators should not mingle or mix with each other.
- Limit any nonessential visitors, spectators, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations.
- If an organized sport has spectators, then athletes should keep 12 feet of distance from spectators.
- The sport should be the only activity taking place in the room (indoor) or designated area (outdoor) - no other activities, including cheer or band, should be co-occurring.
- Coaches, athletic directors, and medical and administrative staff should familiarize themselves with public health requirements and athlete welfare considerations and direct play accordingly.
- Maintain a list of participants for each practice/game.
- Athletes and spectators should participate in the screening process for symptoms and COVID-19 exposures to ensure they are symptom-free before they are deemed able to attend or play. A person should be delegated to be responsible that screening is performed consistently and according to public health recommendation.
- Unvaccinated athletes or spectators with suspected or known COVID-19 exposures, such as ill household contacts, must stay at home and adhere to requirements for quarantine.
- Require documented medical clearance for athletes with a history of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection to ensure each athlete has fully recovered and is medically capable of resuming sports participation.
- Require public health clearance for athletes with a history of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection to ensure each athlete is no longer infectious. Frequently communicate with all staff and families of athletes about the organization's actions, restrictions due to public health orders, occurrences of COVID-19 within the team, and potentially affected individuals within the sports organization.
- Encourage athletes and parents/guardians/household members of athletes at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to discuss the risks and benefits of sports participation with their health care provider. Consider alternative timing or method of return to sports participation if necessary.
- Encourage athletes to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they are able. All Coloradans age 12 and older are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Establish a system of tracking attendance athlete, staff, and spectator participation in practices and games to facilitate contact tracing in the event of illness or exposure to COVID-19.
- Regularly clean all commonly touched surfaces and shared objects (Additional Guidance).
- Eliminate shared water stations, towels, uniforms, etc. for athletes, staff, and coaches.
- Prepare to scale back the level of activity following a case or outbreak of COVID-19.
- Educate athletes about COVID-19 and the related protocols and address their fears and questions in an age- and developmentally-appropriate manner.
Management practices at training and athletic events
- Athletes, staff, and coaches should maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet when not engaged in active training or competition, including when on the sidelines.
- All participants, staff, and coaches on the sidelines should be sitting or practicing at least 6 feet apart from each other.
- Encourage hand hygiene upon arrival, before hydration breaks, and at regular intervals throughout training and competition.
- Strongly encourage unvaccinated people to wear masks while indoors.
- Masks are recommended outdoors for unvaccinated people in crowded settings where distancing may be difficult.
- No spitting (saliva, sunflower seeds, chewing tobacco) or sharing water bottles/team jugs.
- Establish protocols for isolation of symptomatic individuals and for communication of positive cases and/or potential exposure to COVID-19, including assigning a specific staff member to coordinate with local public health officials.
- Isolate athletes on-site who develop symptoms during training or competition and make arrangements for them to safely leave the venue as soon as possible. Symptomatic athletes should wear a mask (if it is medically safe to do so) and isolate in a designated space at least 6 feet from other individuals while awaiting transportation.
- Symptomatic athletes and spectators should isolate and contact a healthcare professional to discuss the need for evaluation and testing. Athletes and spectators who test positive for COVID-19 must notify the sports organization and follow instructions from local public health agencies.
- All organized sports must follow the case and outbreak guidance for schools if their participants are within grades P-12.
- For adult organized sports, refer symptomatic employees, spectators and athletes to a health care professional for evaluation and testing, as well as to the CDPHE Symptom Support tool (Additional Guidance), and report to local public health agencies.
- Follow protocols for isolation of individuals who become symptomatic during training or competition, and alert youth sports organization or school of symptomatic individuals.
- The sports organization must notify their local public of cases within 24 hours and cooperate with public health investigation. Find local public health agency contacts online. Failure to report may result in suspension of games or even seasons.
- Due to the need for quarantine of all potentially exposed parties, as determined by public health, all individuals should wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet from others, wash hands, avoid crowds, and take other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for 14 days from the date of exposure if unvaccinated. Group training and competition for those exposed, unvaccinated individuals must be cancelled for 14 days from the last date of exposure. For more information about how long to quarantine, see the How to quarantine webpage. Athletes who develop symptoms after COVID-19 exposure should isolate and contact a healthcare professional to discuss the need for evaluation and testing.
- Given the potential for prolonged symptom recovery and cardiac complications from COVID-19, athletes with confirmed or presumed COVID-19 infection must coordinate with their health care provider to obtain clearance for return to sports participation. Due to the demands of athletic activity, clearance may be different from timing for return to school or return to work.
- For non-interscholastic sports, follow guidelines for public transportation for transportation between matches. Members of the same household may sit closely together, with 6 feet of distancing between different household groups.
- For competitive sports with participants in the P-12 system, follow school transportation guidelines. Riders over 12 years old must wear masks during transit.
- For events that require travel outside the local region, be aware that guidance for travelers may vary depending on what part of Colorado you are visiting. Some Colorado counties may have additional local restrictions which are more stringent than statewide guidance. Consult the COVID-19 Dial Dashboard for more information about county-specific restrictions. Find more information regarding travel within Colorado.
- Sporting events or tournaments must comply with all protocols in this guidance. Outdoor sporting events or tournaments are encouraged over indoor events.
- It’s safer for teams from within Colorado to compete with other teams within Colorado. Playing with teams from other states, especially states with higher rates of transmission, is riskier. Teams that travel to other states must follow restrictions that are in place for those areas.
- Times for games or competitions should be staggered to prevent mingling of separate teams, cohorts, and spectators.
- Concessions should follow Restaurant Guidance, and other facilities should be regularly cleaned, sanitized, and maintained. (Additional Guidance)
- If spectators are present at an outdoor sporting event, adjacent fields of play should be distanced to allow for at least 50 feet of physical distance between each field and their respective spectator sections. All spectators should follow the outdoor events guidance.
- Post clear signs notifying participants, spectators, and employees of hygiene and sanitation expectations, including not entering if they or anyone in their household is experiencing any symptoms of illness.
- Low frequency of contact sports: sports with little inter-athlete contact. Athletes perform these sports at a distance or individually.
- Examples: running, swimming, diving, weightlifting, skateboarding, skiing, golf.
- Medium frequency of contact sports: sports with some inter-athlete contact that allow for physical distancing most of the time or require protective gear. These sports may require shared equipment; provide the opportunity for equipment to be cleaned between participants.
- Examples: basketball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, softball, baseball, gymnastics, field hockey, ice hockey, bowling.
- High frequency of contact sports: sports with more frequent or sustained inter-athlete contact and/or shared equipment among participants.
- Examples: wrestling, football, rugby, dance, cheer/spirit.
- Additional resources for sport categorization: