Middle-school and high-school student-athletes who take part in fall sports would have until their season ends in November to get required physicals completed under a bill set for a vote Monday in the Senate that cites the coronavirus as a reason to be flexible.

Bill sponsor Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said there are questions around opening school buildings with official practices potentially starting in early August.

“We’re also concerned about the uncertainty of individuals getting in to see their pediatricians, some individuals afraid to go to a doctor because of the situation,” Sarlo said.

The bill, S2518, originally would have applied for the entire 2020-21 school year, but Sarlo agreed to limit the delay to the fall season after getting pushback from school nurses and physicians.

“Essentially it will give student-athletes whose physical is about to expire, they have to get it at some point in time between now and the end of the fall season,” he said. “They definitely need it before the winter sport starts.”

Sarlo said the state is in the middle of updating its "health history questionnaire" to include inquiries about coronavirus. Schools can prevent students who said they were exposed to COVID from starting sports until they complete a physical, he said.

Eileen Gavin, legislative chairwoman of the New Jersey State School Nurses Association, said it isn’t necessary to change the rule at all.

“We’ve turned the corner with this virus, and pediatric offices are open, urgent cares are doing the sports physicals,” said Gavin, a Middletown school nurse.

Gavin said if students can’t access their pediatrician, school physicians can help. She said sports physicals are full well visits, plus an extra cardiac screening required since 2013 that might detect students who had COVID-19 but were asymptomatic.

“And a red flag might be picked up on that cardiac screening,” Gavin said. “So it’s important now more than ever.”

State Sen. Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex, sponsored the cardiac screening law and opposes the current legislation because it could mean some students would play the season without the screening.

“To me, this one of these rare life and death situations,” Diegnan said. “And I believe it will impact poor kids worse than rich kids because they don’t have the ability to go to their pediatrician.”

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said schools she spoke with don’t want the rule waived and that pediatricians say there’s no reason to fear a doctor’s office visit. She said there could also be opportunities to use tele-health.

“I just think we’re sending mixed messages here in the middle of a pandemic, when it’s more critically important to get an access point check with our students who have been home for quite some time,” Ruiz said.

The bill was introduced June 4 and referred to the Senate Education Committee, which Ruiz chairs. It was transferred out of that committee without a hearing and moved to the Senate budget committee, which Sarlo chairs, which advanced it last Thursday.

There isn’t yet an Assembly companion version of the bill.

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