By Marty Gordon
In a statement issued Monday morning, the Virginia High School League rescinded its earlier statement requiring that face coverings be worn during training and competition and has reissued its guidance to declare that face masks are “strongly encouraged” but not required in accordance with the governor’s emergency order.
On Dec. 10, the VHSL announced that it “is requiring each school to follow the recommendations of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)” that students and coaches wear masks while participating in sports.
This requirement was issued in response to information that the Governor’s Requirement to Wear Face Coverings would include such a provision. However, Emergency Order 72 when issued stated that face coverings requirements “do not apply to … individuals exercising or using exercise equipment.”
“VHSL apologizes for any confusion created by its original release,” said VHSL Executive Director, Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “We ask the public to understand that it is the first mission of VHSL to make sure that athletics are conducted in a safe and healthy environment, and it was that desire that motivated the original decision.”
“Each school may continue to exercise its discretion and judgment as to safety steps within its athletics programs as it pertains to face coverings.”
In its statement, the VHSL said, “The state’s athletic group is rescinding its requirement that face coverings be worn during training and competition and is reissuing its guidance to conform with the intent of EO 72 that face masks are ‘strongly encouraged’ but not required.”
According to the Virginia Department of Health, individuals who participate in, attend, or organize sports activities should consider the potential level of risk for transmitting COVID-19 associated with certain sports before deciding to participate in recreational sports. COVID-19 is spread by close contact between infectious individuals (who may or may not be symptomatic).
In line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Considerations for Youth Sports, the VDH recommends that participants and organizers of sports activities consider the following to help assess the risk of spread during a particular sport:
Physical closeness of players, and the length of time that players are close to each other or to staff.
Amount of necessary touching of shared equipment and gear (e.g., protective gear, balls, bats, racquets, mats or water bottles).
Ability to engage in social distancing while not actively engaged in play (e.g., during practice, on the sideline or in the dugout).
Age of the player.
Players at higher risk of developing serious disease.
Size of the team. Nonessential visitors, spectators, volunteers. Limit any nonessential visitors, spectators, volunteers and activities involving external groups or organizations.
Travel outside of the local community.
Setting in which the sport is typically played (e.g. indoors vs. outdoors).
The VDH says wearing masks is especially important during indoor competition and practices. Wearing masks is also important in shared spaces such as locker rooms and during shared transportation (including carpooling) to/from an event.
Masks should also be worn by coaches, officials, spectators and volunteers at all times and coaches and/or officials should monitor proper use. Individual outdoor sports that do not involve close contact (e.g. golf, singles tennis, etc) may not necessitate wearing a mask.
Masks are generally well tolerated by the majority of persons who wear them during exercise; however the masks may need to be removed under certain circumstances (e.g. if the masks become wet). There are some sports in which the mask could become a choking hazard or inadvertently impair vision and should not be worn, such as cheerleading-tumbling/stunting, gymnastics, wrestling and water sports.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 72 includes capacity limits.
For sports played indoors, spectators must be limited to 25 persons per field (indoor courts).
For sports played outdoors, spectators are limited to two guests per player.
The total number of spectators cannot exceed 30 percent of the occupancy load of the certificate of occupancy for the venue.