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Masks Still Have Place as High School Sports Returning

Brock Fritz

High school athletes aren’t in the clear yet, as some states are planning to start the 2021-22 athletic calendar with mask mandates in place.

Governors in Oregon and North Carolina have recently ordered that masks will be required indoors at schools to limit the spread of COVID-19. The athletic governing bodies followed suit, with the Wallowa County Chieftain reporting that Oregon School Activities Association executive director Peter Weber saying indoor athletes will be held to the same mask-wearing standard that’s in place in classrooms. The Daily Reflector in Pitt, North Carolina, reported that the state’s new guidelines will also be in place during area sporting events.

“We are absolutely concerned with the Delta variant and understand we don’t always get to make our own decisions on whether we will play sports or not,” Pitt County athletics director Ron Butler said. “We will follow the guidelines set by our local boards, the health departments and the state – whatever we have to do to be able to compete.”

"We're trying to get clarification on that, but that is our understanding — any activities, anything inside involving a K-12 school," Weber said of Oregon’s mandate, noting that the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority are working on the language. "We're waiting to see what the language says.”

Oregon governor Kate Brown announced Thursday that all students and staff in K-12 schools this fall will be required to wear masks indoors. Oregon has had more than 1,000 new cases two days this week.

North Carolina governor Roy Governor’s new executive order urges everyone in indoor spaces to wear face coverings. It follows some other states’ path, like Minnesota, by not mandating the wearing of masks, but saying “Mask use is recommended for all people, including students, teachers and staff, in K-12 settings. For outdoors, in general, people do not need to wear masks. However, particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission, CDC recommends people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involved sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.”

The indoor mask mandates could have a limited immediate impact, however, as volleyball is the only fall sport that consistently competes indoors. The mandates come after the 2020-21 school year finished relatively normally in most states, but the rise of COVID-19 cases and the Delta variant has led to an increasing level of caution.

“Our numbers are up, but the one thing we do have this year is the vaccine,” Butler said. “Since you are eligible to be vaccinated, hopefully, we won’t have the quarantines and people sitting out for long periods of time because they do have the opportunity to get vaccinated.”

The Ohio High School Athletic Association sent a memo to schools last week saying, “Although Ohio lifted most statewide pandemic-related health orders on June 2, the risk is still there for illness from COVID-19. The OHSAA and ODH urge the membership to continue to follow safe protocols to protect everyone, especially those individuals who are not fully vaccinated. There are currently no mandates regarding vaccinations and social distancing, and the only mandate on masks is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirement that masks be worn while using public transportation, which includes school buses.

“It is highly recommended that coaches and student-athletes who are eligible for vaccinations to be vaccinated, and it is highly recommended that those who are unvaccinated maintain social distancing and wear masks in indoor facilities and in outdoor facilities where there are crowded situations.

“I guess it is what it is. We get told to do what we have to do, and that comes down from OHA and OSAA. If that is what they're going to require, that is what we have to do," Joseph athletic director Jason Crenshaw said. "It's too bad, but as long as they're not going to keep us from participating. I was hoping that wasn't going to be the case, but those things are out of our control. At least we'll get to play. They haven't shut us down on that yet. That's the most important thing for me at this point.”

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