Maine state officials are hitting the brakes on high school sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Morning Sentinel, Maine commissioner of education Pender Makin and commissioner of department of health and human services Jeanne Lambrew’s letter to the Maine Principals’ Association strongly asked them to delay fall sports — and rebuked them for voting to return to competition before the state could review the guidelines. The Maine Principals’ Association’s 12-member Interscholastic Management Committee unanimously voted Aug. 27 to allow all sports to compete this fall.
“MPA shared its guidance in its entirety only hours before its Interscholastic Management Committee was scheduled to vote on the guidance, leaving us inadequate time to review and provide appropriate feedback in advance of the vote,” the letter reads.
The state has now had sufficient time to review the documents, and reportedly has concerns about face coverings, physical distancing amid spectators, and that the MPA only requires student-athletes in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 to inform their school. The Maine Department of Education recommends that people who test positive — or come in contact with someone who tested positive — must quarantine.
“The MPA face covering guidance is largely but not fully consistent with State guidance,” the letter states. “According to Executive Order 49 FY 19/20, ‘individuals must wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain.’ Beyond exceptions for young children and certain people with medical conditions, face coverings are not required during vigorous activity. However, at all other times including during low to moderate intensity exercises, in bench areas, during coaching strategy sessions, and other circumstances where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain, sports participants must wear a face covering — along with coaches, officials, and others involved in school sports.”
State officials believe high school sports bring challenges that aren’t present at higher levels. The lack of resources may make it tougher to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“If the schools had the resources like professional and some collegiate sports leagues to conduct frequent team testing and house teams separately to protect other students, school staff, and their families, it might be possible to return to interscholastic competition safely,” the letter reads. “Without that, such a return poses a risk of spreading COVID-19 across the state, within schools, and to vulnerable people within communities.
“We would like to know, at your earliest convenience, if the MPA plans on modifying its guidance and, if so, how? Additionally, given that it is September 1, we urge you to consider extending your delayed start date for fall sports as many other interscholastic sports bodies in other states have done to allow for sufficient time to resolve the concerns expressed in this letter and to allow for appropriate time for implementation.”
According to the Morning Sentinel, MPA executive director Mike Burnham responded to the state’s letter, saying “we appreciate their suggestions and will continue to work cooperatively with those state agencies.”
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