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HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday that he is calling on schools to cancel fall sports, saying anything that creates a crowd is going to help the spread of coronavirus.

"The recommendation is we don't do any sports until Jan. 1," Wolf said.

This afternoon, Wolf's office released information that the Department of Health and the Department of Education are "jointly" recommending the suspension of school and recreational youth sports until the end of 2020.

"The administration is providing this strong recommendation and not an order or mandate. As with deciding whether students should return to in-person classes, remote learning or a blend of the two this fall, school administrators and locally elected school boards should make decisions on sports," the release stated.

The abrupt announcement came at the end of a press conference about expanding COVID-19 testing and days after state health officials had indicated they were crafting guidelines regarding whether to allow fans at high school sporting events. Earlier Thursday, Penn State Athletics released a statement saying current guidance will mean no fans at Penn State events this fall.

"The guidance is we ought to avoid congregate settings," Wolf said. "Anytime we get together for any reason that's a problem."

The governor's announcement comes after the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association had met and voted to allow sports to move forward. Under the PIAA's plan, sports teams were due to begin playing games as soon as Aug. 20, when golf matches were due to begin. The PIAA Executive board is meeting this afternoon to discuss the guidance according to reports.

Highlights of the recommendation to pause youth sports until Jan. 1, 2021:

• Applies to team and individual, school and non-school recreational youth sports.

• Includes competitions, intramural play and scrimmages.

• Continue conditioning, drills and other training activities on an individual basis.

• Does not apply to collegiate and professional sports.

• Gathering limits remain unchanged - no more than 25 persons may gather indoors and 250 outdoors.

According to the news release, Wolf's "administration recognizes the importance of getting children back to school, while also protecting the safety and well-being of students and educators. Guidance for schools is available. The guidance represents endorsed best public health practices related to social distancing, face coverings, hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting in school settings. It also outlines how to accommodate individuals with disabilities or chronic conditions, procedures for monitoring symptoms, and responding to confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in the school community.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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