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Revision as of 11:11, 1 September 2021 by Judycole (talk | contribs) (2021-09-01 Reworded intro to reflect that it is now Sept 1)

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COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus first discovered in 2019. The ensuing pandemic resulted in the cancellation of competitive Scrabble activities worldwide, and NASPA's implementation of color-coded guidelines that imposed a moratorium on in-person play.

NASPA's Board is not comprised of doctors or medical care providers. DO NOT predicate your medical decisions or actions regarding your personal health on anything provided herein.

Click here to see how the moratorium affects your NASPA membership.

This moratorium was lifted in two phases. First, as of 2021-06-01, the addition of the new Cyan Safety Level allowed groups of fully vaccinated players to gather to play normally. Second, as of 2021-09-01, the color-coded guidance was phased out in favour of a general requirement that events conform to all levels of official guidance.

Resumption of Normal Operations

Effective 2021-09-01, NASPA is returning to normal operations, subject to any restrictions imposed or recommended in governmental guidance, laws or regulations.

  • For Americans, this means complying with authorities such as town, city, county, tribal, territorial, state or federal government agencies (including the CDC).
  • For Canadians, this means you should likewise consult municipal, Indigenous, provincial and federal government guidance (including PHAC), and only compete where this is recommended by all levels of authority.

For example, if your town permits gatherings of the sort needed to play, but your state or province does not, you cannot play. Or if your county says unvaccinated people can meet indoors, but the CDC/PHAC (respectively) recommends social distancing indoors, you cannot play in such a group.

Members who are travelling from one jurisdiction to another must also comply with all government guidance concerning travel.

Directors may impose stricter rules about the need for vaccination, the use of masks and face coverings, hand washing, etc. Those restrictions must be made available to players both before registration and at the playing site.

The remainder of this page is retained for the sake of historical interest.


On 2020-03-18, we advised all directors to cancel or postpone all sanctioned club and tournament activity, and to not resume until the appropriate public health authorities have recommended doing so.

On 2020-06-25, we published guidance on when and how to resume competitive Scrabble activities according to a four-color Scrabble safety level scheme.

On 2021-06-01 we added the Cyan Safety Level — conditions under which small groups of fully vaccinated players can meet for sanctioned tournament or club play.

On 2021-06-21, we removed the cap on the number of participants under the Cyan Safety Level.

Players should check with club and tournament directors to make sure that events have not been cancelled at the last minute.

Risk Assessment

COVID-19 can cause several avoidable or mitigable hazards.

Hazard Chance Impact Risk Mitigated Risk Countermeasures
Bringing COVID-19 to venue High High High Medium Screening, color-coded safety phases
Finding COVID-19 at venue Low High Medium Low Screening, separation from other users
Spread during play High High High High Spacing, ventilation, single-use equipment, disinfection, pairing
Spread between rounds High High High Medium Spacing, hand-washing, eliminate reasons to gather
Spread to/from staff High High High Medium Spacing, barriers, hand-washing, electronic communication
Player becomes sick at event Low High Medium Medium Screening, recording contacts, awareness of local medical protocol
Staff becomes sick at event Low High Medium Medium Screening, recording contacts, awareness of local medical protocol, redundancy

We will discuss appropriate countermeasures in more detail below in the context of color-coded Scrabble safety levels.

General Principles

From 2020 on, we will always be living in an era with a heightened awareness of the risks of pandemic disease. No matter what the current NASPA safety level, be mindful of your health and safety and those around you.

A NASPA Director has a duty to provide a safe environment for their players, to instruct them on how best to ensure their safety, and to verify their compliance.

A NASPA Director can refuse entry to players if the director deems that their participation will result in an unsafe environment for other players. A NASPA member has a duty to share any information (such as their positive infectious status) that may affect the safety of other members around them.

If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a player may have a contagious disease, even if they are not symptomatic, the player SHALL be refused participation to avoid exposing other participants to unnecessary risk of contagion.

NASPA Safety Levels

There are different systems in place across the continent for describing what the current pandemic safety level is, and for recommending correspondingly appropriate measures. Here is one for our competitive community, using a red - yellow - green - cyan - blue scheme from most dangerous to most safe.

The NASPA safety level applies to specific groups of people gathered for a specific NASPA-sanctioned event (club meeting or tournament). It is keyed to the government safety levels of each of the participants and venue, but is more restrictive. NASPA’s reopening will therefore take a regionally phased approach as in many states and provinces.

Governments restrict or recommend against all gatherings of fewer than 100 people. No one may meet to play Scrabble in person.
Governments allow all business to reopen but require or recommend some social distancing measures. Participants may meet in person and play Scrabble online on individual devices, but may not share equipment or paper, or approach within six feet (2 m) of each other.
Governments lift all pandemic-related restrictions and recommendations, but there have been confirmed or probable cases within 14 days. Participants may meet and play Scrabble under Green rules as described below.
Governments permit gatherings of unrelated households, and all participants have completed a course of vaccination (such as two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines) and waited the recommended duration (such as two weeks for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines) for it to take full effect. Participants may meet and play Scrabble under Cyan rules as described above.
There are no government pandemic-related restrictions or recommendations, or confirmed or probable cases within 14 days. Participants may meet and play Scrabble with no restrictions.

Our color-coded guidance is designed to mitigate risk, but cannot eliminate it. Please think carefully about your personal risk profile when making choices about competing in Scrabble events.

Failure to comply with color-coded measures will be deemed physical abuse under the Code of Conduct.

Red Play

Clubs and tournaments should not meet in person when the NASPA safety level is Red .

Clubs may play online using online apps and meeting tools such as Zoom or Discord. If they do so formally, the Code of Conduct is in effect.

NASPA will not rate online tournaments or recognize records achieved at online events.

Noteworthy accomplishments at online events may be reported to info@scrabbleplayers.org for publication in the weekly newsletter.

Yellow Play

Players may meet in person to converse or play online on individual devices, subject to the following restrictions:

  • For all participants
    • No one who has a probable or confirmed case of an infectious disease may attend.
    • No one may approach within six feet (2 m) of anyone else at any time.
    • All participants must wear face coverings that cover their nose and mouth at all times.
    • No one may share any equipment, including phones, tablets, or word adjudication devices.
    • Food may not be served or consumed in public spaces. Beverages may not be served, and may only be consumed from closed-top containers.
    • All participants must clean their hands hourly, by washing where possible, or else using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Participants should where possible clean their hands in the presence of other participants, to ensure careful attention.
  • For directors
    • Any object that must be touched by more than one person (such as a doorknob) must be disinfected at least hourly.
    • The director must keep a list of participants, together with their current contact information, and ask them to confirm verbally on arrival that they have not recently been symptomatic or travelled to areas where Red rules would be in effect.

Green Play

Players may meet for traditional face-to-face competitive Scrabble using regular playing equipment, subject to the following conditions:

  • For all participants
    • No one who has a probable or confirmed case of an infectious disease may attend.
    • All participants must wear face coverings that cover their nose and mouth at all times.
    • Food may not be served in public spaces or consumed in the playing area. Beverages may not be served, and may only be consumed from closed-top containers.
    • All participants must clean their hands hourly, by washing where possible, or else using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Participants should where possible clean their hands in the presence of other participants, to ensure careful attention.
  • For directors
    • Firsts and seconds should be assigned in each game to identify where the game will be played.
    • Scheduling and layout must be arranged so that no one needs to approach within six feet (2 m) of anyone else at any time, except their assigned opponent for the duration of a game.
      • In particular, there must not be any place where participants might gather to see pairings or standings, sign up for prizes, adjudicate words, or receive food and beverage service.
    • Any object that must be touched by more than one person (such as a doorknob) must be disinfected at least hourly.
    • The director must keep a list of participants, together with their current contact information, and ask them to confirm verbally on arrival that they have not recently been symptomatic or travelled to areas where Red or Yellow rules would be in effect.
    • The director must designate a substitute director, with whom they are not domiciled, to replace them should they become ill before or during competition.
    • Division sizes should be kept as small as possible.
  • Equipment
    • All participants should bring a board, rack, timer, storage bag containing unused tile sets and tile bags, and a second bag in which to place used equipment.
    • The owner of the board, rack, and timer must be clearly identified.
    • At the start of the event, each participant must set up their board at a separate table (or space at a table) at least six feet (2 m) from any other table.
    • If neither player has a fixed table assignment at their own board, then the game must be played at the second player's table. If one player has a fixed table assignment, the game is played at that player's table. If both players have fixed table assignments, the game is played at the second player's table.
    • At the start of each game, either player may request that a previously unused set of tiles and tile bag belonging to one of the two players be put into service. Any used tiles and tile bags should then be placed into the owner’s storage bag, and not reused until disinfected.
    • The director may require participants to bring their own word adjudication device.

Blue Play

Competitive events may proceed normally, subject only to the following restrictions:

  • No one who has a probable or confirmed case of an infectious disease may attend.
  • All participants must affirm to the Director that they have been exclusively in areas where Blue rules are in effect for the past 14 days.
  • If any participants have been in Green rules areas but none in Yellow or Red, the event may proceed under Green rules.
  • Players who have been in Yellow or Red rules areas within 14 days of the event must not participate. If after the event begins, the director discovers that a player has been in a Yellow or Red rules area, that player must withdraw from the event immediately. Any equipment used by that player must be removed from play or disinfected if not possible to remove. The director must announce the reason for the player's withdrawal and ensure that the player's opponents are informed.

NASPA Safety Level FAQ

What does all government guidance mean?
All governmental guidance means guidance issued by federal, state/provincial, tribal, territorial and county/municipal authorities in both the locality in which a participant resides and the locality in which the gathering takes place. Guidance includes but may not be limited to laws, by-laws, regulations, recommendations and guidelines. Where guidance includes restrictions on nonessential activities, Scrabble events should be considered nonessential. An event must conform to the most restrictive guidance issued by any government authority. For example, if the state imposes no restrictions on gatherings but the federal government limits indoor gatherings to 25 people, the event limit is 25 people.
How can I tell what the NASPA safety level is for a specific event?
If you are not sure how to apply the rules, you may email us at info@scrabbleplayers.org and we will research the matter for you. That is, if you tell us what your municipal, state and federal recommendations are, we will tell you what NASPA safety level they imply.
I had COVID-19 already. Do I need to be vaccinated to participate in a Cyan event?
Yes. All participants must have completed a course of vaccination and waited the recommended duration for it to take effect. Experts do not yet know how long you are protected after recovering from COVID-19.
My club has 10 members, not all of whom are vaccinated. Government authorities in my area restrict groups larger than 50 from meeting, but permit small groups of vaccinated to meet in private. Can my club meet?
Your area is in the Yellow NASPA safety level because the government is recommending some social distancing measures. Your club can meet under Yellow rules, and may be eligible to play under Cyan rules if everyone present has been vaccinated.
What color rules are in effect near borders or at regional tournaments?
There may be ambiguity about which color is in effect in a given situation, especially if play is to take place in a location close to a public health jurisdictional boundary, or if players are travelling to an event from multiple areas. In such cases, the most serious, restrictive rules apply. For example, if a tournament director in Yukon wants to take advantage of their territory's NASPA Green status, they may do so as long as no one travels to their tournament from or through any area where Yellow or Red rules would be in effect.
How do travel bubbles work?
A travel bubble is a governmental agreement to allow the same rules to hold within a group of jurisdictions. If all participants are within the same travel bubble, then the most restrictive rules in any jurisdiction within the bubble apply. For example, if there is a travel bubble in Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick is Blue and Nova Scotia is Green, then an event in New Brunswick would be held under Green rules even if all participants are from New Brunswick.
What if some businesses are open and some are not, or some require social distancing but others do not?
Yellow rules remain in effect until all businesses are open without restrictions.
Do you have a map showing NASPA safety levels?
It is not practical to create such a map, because the safety level summarizes a situation based on a given group of people in a given place at a given time. Changes to situations and guidance may be issued by public health authorities at different times each day, and they are not always presented in a way that is easy for nonlocals to understand.
How fine-grained would a map be that showed NASPA safety levels?
If such a map could be constructed, it would be as fine-grained as needed to incorporate variations in government recommendations. For example, if a city says that residents of one particularly at risk neighborhood should stay home while everyone else is free to do as they please, then that neighborhood would be Red while everyone else would be Blue or Green.
Why do I have to stand six feet (2 m) away from my domestic partner?
Others who are not be aware of your relationship may feel that distancing requirements have been relaxed and approach you more closely, leading to avoidable directorial interventions.

Additional Recommendations

This section lists several categories of optional recommendations that may result in a safer experience for all participants.

According to at least one scientific study (Harvey, 2020), the risk of contracting COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface is 1/10 that of spending one hour in a naturally ventilated indoor space of about 3,000 cubic meters (111,000 cubic feet) with a single infectious individual.

Hygienic behavior

  • Wash your hands thoroughly at least before and after each round. This is to remove germs that your hands have picked up from playing equipment, furniture, keyboards, door handles, etc. Even if you feel healthy, you may be incubating a serious disease, and you can also spread germs from other players. Washing hands is the best way to prevent this.
    • Thoroughly means wetting your hands, soaping them, reciting all the anagrams of AEINRST at a reasonable pace three times while lathering all surfaces of your hands, rinsing them, turning off the water without touching anything, and drying your hands without recontaminating them.
    • If you cannot wash your hands, then you can try disinfecting them with 60%+ alcohol-based hand sanitizer, used according to directions. This is not as effective as washing your hands, but may be more convenient during play.
  • Do not touch your face. If you do, wash your hands again.
  • Do wear face coverings that cover your nose and mouth at all times. In particular, you should do so when within six feet (2 m) of another participant.
  • Do not approach within six feet (2 m) of another participant except as needed in order to play a game.
  • Do not shake hands. If you do, wash your hands again.

Cleaning equipment

  • High-contact surfaces, including boards, clocks, racks, adjudication devices, and doorknobs, should be disinfected hourly.
  • Keyboards and touch screens should be disinfected before and after each use by someone other than their owner.
  • You should bring your own disinfected equipment to events.
  • When you get home, wash your playing tiles and tile bags, disinfect racks and board with bleach wipes, and disinfect clocks and adjudication devices according to manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Use a CDC-approved product to disinfect equipment, but exercise caution when using any chemical on electronic equipment or glass, especially bleach-based disinfectants and oleophobic resin-coated glass.
    • See Apple's recommendations for how to safely disinfect their recent equipment. As of 2020-03-13, Apple says that 70% alcohol wipes or Clorox disinfectant wipes are fine on nonporous surfaces, but do check their website for recent updates. Remember that manufacturers speak with authority about what will not damage their equipment; the CDC tells you what will kill germs.

Tournament organization

  • Firsts and seconds should be assigned by the director, not by drawing tiles.
  • The use of paper for communicating information should be minimized.
  • There should be a lot of space and ventilation wherever players gather (exits, food service, restrooms, scoreboards).
  • Each game should be played on a board belonging to one of the players involved.
  • Division sizes should be kept as small as possible.

Word adjudication

Participants are discouraged from using a common word adjudication device, to mitigate the risk of indirect contact transmission. This may be done either by having players use their own devices, or by having the director adjudicate challenges from a safe distance, while showing players the screen at appropriate points in the process.

Adjudicators are encouraged to use licensed software (or the NASPA Word Judge online) on their own mobile devices for word adjudication. Rule IV.J.1 (Software Lookup Procedure) lists which actions should be taken by the challenger and the player being challenged. If a personal mobile device is being used for adjudication, the owner of the device should take all actions necessary to operate their device for both players according to their specific verbal instructions.

Specifically, if one of the players involved in the challenge has an appropriate device (and not withstanding any other prohibition on electronic devices), then steps (e) through (k) should be replaced with the following. If both of the players want to use their own device, then the device belonging to the player being challenged should be used.

e. If either player at any time before the adjudication feels a word was recorded wrongly, they should verify the spelling.

f. The owner types the word(s) being challenged. All word(s) must be typed before adjudication.

g. Both players verify the word(s) have been entered correctly and that the correct lexicon is selected, and the owner presses the adjudication key .

h. The adjudication result is marked on the challenge slip.

i. Adjudication is final unless either player feels the device or program is flawed (and requests a manual adjudication) or feels a word may not have been entered correctly (and chooses to repeat the procedure.)

If you are sick

  • If you have a fever and/or a contagious disease (such as COVID-19, influenza, chickenpox or measles), do not go to a NASPA club or tournament where you may spread it to others.
  • If you have a mild contagious airborne disease (such as a common cold), do not go to a NASPA club or tournament where you may spread it to others. You might also be carrying a more serious disease unwittingly, and risk spreading it when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you have allergies that make you sneeze or cough, take medication to prevent this from happening during a game, and wear a face covering in case it still happens.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough during a game, and are not wearing a face mask, do so into a tissue or your elbow and away from all playing equipment and players. Then ask your opponent to pause the clock and call the director to discuss whether you should withdraw from the event. If you decide to continue, wash your hands before resuming play. If you have to leave the playing area to wash your hands, do so under the terms of Rule IV.L (Leaving the Playing Area During a Game).
  • If you are immunosuppressed or otherwise at higher risk of contracting a respiratory illness, or at higher risk of serious consequences, do not go to a NASPA club or tournament without clearance from a medical doctor and the event director.
  • At a competitive event, you will be required to play all assigned opponents, regardless of your medical condition or theirs (although if one of you is visibly ill, you will be asked to leave). If you are not healthy enough to play all your opponents, you should stay home until you are.
  • If you become aware after an event has started that your participation is endangering your health or that of your fellow players, inform the director as soon as you can, and withdraw from the event. According to Rule V.K. (Forfeits and Byes), if you leave mid-game you will be awarded a rated loss for the game in progress; any subsequent games will not affect your rating.
  • If you are tournament staff, always try to have a substitute available for your role, to avoid being the cause of contagion.

Best practices for directors


Follow official news sources closely to anticipate measures that will be taken to address outbreaks, and communicate them to your players. Be open with your players about your planning process, including how you will decide if the event needs to be cancelled, and how you will treat sick players.


Plan for the possibility that your event may have to be cancelled, either because public health authorities require it, or because your own risk assessment so indicates. Consider also that players and staff (especially those who are travelling) may have to cancel their plans.

When negotiating space with a new venue, discuss COVID-19 specifically as an example of force majeure. A standard force majeure clause permits either party to cancel a contract at no penalty. Even if you find yourself having to cancel an event without a force majeure clause in your contract, ask your venue if any deposit that you have paid can be refunded to you given the unusual circumstances, or at least be credited toward a future event post-outbreak.

Similarly, although it is NASPA’s position to remain independent of financial transactions between players and directors, we believe that it is in everyone’s long-term best interest for directors to be as lenient as they can about entry fee cancellation policies where COVID-19 is concerned.

Notify the Tournament Committee if you cancel a tournament. You can reschedule the tournament to another date if it does not conflict with a tournament already on the calendar. The standard 6 weeks advance notice will not be required for the rescheduled tournament.

Contingency Planning

During an outbreak, consider that any of the following may be unavailable on short notice: key personnel (including yourself), equipment, playing space, and players.

Your planning should provide for alternatives if a key resource becomes unavailable - for example, extra equipment or an alternate venue.


Before permitting a player or staff member to enter the playing space, verify that they (to the best of their knowledge, on pain of discipline as a Code of Conduct case of physical abuse) do not present an undue risk of spreading COVID-19.

Click here to download a form that you can use to screen participants.

Venue and layout

When choosing a venue for your event, evaluate the risk associated with the location.

  • Venues that have more people attending them on a regular basis carry a higher risk of contagion, and can make contact tracing challenging.
  • Venues such as nursing homes that have large at-risk populations should be avoided.
  • Venues that are geographically isolated may increase the risk of contagion during travel.

When laying out the floor plan for your event, minimize opportunities for players to congregate in close proximity. If possible, ask players to keep a two-metre distance from each other when not playing.

  • Post multiple copies of standings and pairings in different parts of the room
  • If you offer food and beverages, make sure that they are packaged to prevent airborne contamination, and place them in different parts of the room to keep participants apart.

Consider room ventilation and its effect on airborne microorganisms:

  • Large rooms with good ventilation are safer.
  • Outdoors is safer than indoors.
  • Players can inhale germs from players upwind of them.

Post notices reminding participants to wash their hands after each round, and offer hand hygiene stations where possible.

Scheduling rounds

If you have a large number of players who are diligently washing their hands after each round, you may find your tournament schedule delayed by lack of capacity of hand-washing stations. Plan accordingly by padding your schedule, and be lenient in the application of Rule III.C. (Arriving Late) when toilets and sinks are overcrowded.

Keep players at the same tables as much as possible, to minimize sharing equipment. At least one player at each game should stay at the same board in the next round.

Medical supplies

If you have access to them, consider adding to your tournament supplies:

  • disposable face masks
  • tissues
  • hand sanitizer
  • disinfecting wipes
  • a fever thermometer

Be aware of the nearest emergency medical services. if there are medical doctors participating, check with them about their availability to intervene if needed.


This page was created.
Initial version of best practices for competitive play during a pandemic published.
Players warned that many clubs and tournaments are being cancelled.
Regular advance notice requirement for postponed tournaments that do not conflict with others.
All clubs and tournaments required to close where directed to do so by public health and other government authorities.
All clubs and tournaments are required to close, and remain closed until the appropriate public health authorities have recommended doing so.
Announced that a decision would be made about NASC 2020 no later than May 31.
Substantial revisions in preparation for reopening.
Announced revised guidelines in weekly newsletter.
Drafted guidelines for Cyan play
Published guidelines for Cyan play
Announced removal of cap of 12 participants for Cyan play
Announced date for end of moratorium


Information Sources Consulted During Page Creation

Response of Other Tabletop Game Associations

Stefan Fatsis article

Stefan Fatsis reviews the arguments for cancelling tournaments and clubs in Slate.