Those active in the world of prep sports are making it official: summer is on the way out and fall is just around the corner.
For high school players throughout the state of Washington today (Wednesday) is the first official day of turnouts. That means head coaches Mark Gunderson in Enumclaw and Ken Pirone at White River, along with their assistants, can start putting players through their early paces.
Athletes in all other fall sports – that includes volleyball, soccer and swim/dive for girls, tennis and water polo for boys, and cross country and golf for both – are allowed to begin practicing Monday, Aug. 23.
While mid-August traditionally brings the start of high school sports, this bit of normalcy is welcome relief for players, parents, coaches and fans. It follows quickly on the heels of the 2020-21 school year which saw a delayed start to athletics, followed by a shuffling of sports seasons. The effort was to promote safety in a COVID world, moving riskier sports to later in the school year: that meant football kicking off the last weekend of February and basketball being played in the spring.
But what will things look like when the local football programs gather together today and for all fall sports next week? How will they practice and what will they be wearing? Masks or no masks? Social distancing or not?
The verdict was handed down a week ago by the Washington State Department of Health. Rules regarding athletics were part of a full package of K-12 school requirements, a document that stretched 19 pages. The DOH regulations for athletics are found on pages 14-16. The full DOH packet is available at: www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/820-105-K12Schools2021-2022.pdf.
The following text is taken directly from the DOH guidelines, edited in some cases in the interest of brevity.
MASK REQUIREMENTS FOR SPORTS
• Universal masking is required by all athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and support personnel when in weight rooms, regardless of vaccination status. Weight rooms are high-risk indoor settings. They are often poorly ventilated, crowded and used by athletes from sports of multiple contact levels, as well as P.E. students. Practice physical distancing to the degree possible.
• Masks are not required for athletes while competing in low-contact or moderate-contact sports indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are encouraged when practicing indoors. Universal masking is required indoors when not practicing or competing. Contact risk levels for individual sports are referenced in DOH’s Guidance for Sports and Fitness Activities.
• Masks are not required for fully vaccinated athletes competing in high-contact indoor sports. Masks are not required for unvaccinated athletes competing in high-contact indoor sports if they participate in screening testing. Masks are encouraged when practicing indoors. Universal masking is required indoors when not practicing or competing. Contact risk levels for individual sports are referenced in DOH’s Guidance for Sports and Fitness Activities.
– Indoor basketball, wrestling, and water polo are high-contact sports and require screening testing of unvaccinated individuals in order to participate. See the section on Screening Testing for Sporting Activities below.
– Cheer is a high aerosol-generating activity. Fully vaccinated cheerleaders do not have to wear a mask when practicing, performing or competing. Unvaccinated cheerleaders do not have to wear a mask when practicing, performing or competing if they participate in screening testing. Universal masking of cheerleaders is required indoors when not practicing, performing or competing.
– High-contact indoor athletes who are engaging in practices off-season must either: practice universal masking at all times, regardless of vaccination status; or initiate the screening testing protocol of unvaccinated athletes to allow the removal of masks by all athletes, vaccinated and unvaccinated, while practicing. Masks must be worn at all other times when not practicing, regardless of vaccination status.
• Masks are not required for outdoor sports of any contact level but are recommended in settings where unvaccinated athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and/or support personnel are in close proximity, such as standing on the sidelines, in a huddle, or sitting in a dugout.
• All coaches, athletic trainers, and other support personnel involved with sporting activities must wear face coverings indoors in K-12 settings, regardless of vaccination status.
• Referees who are fully vaccinated do not have to wear face coverings indoors when actively officiating and running (e.g., basketball). When they are not running, masks are required (e.g., talking with coaches, between quarters). Unvaccinated referees must wear face coverings at all times when they are officiating, unless they participate in screening testing.
• Masking is required universally for all spectators attending indoor K-12 sporting activities, regardless of vaccination status. Audience members should be seated in “family units” and those small groups should be spaced at least 3 feet apart.
SCREENING TESTING FOR SPORTING ACTIVITIES
Screening testing is required for all unvaccinated athletes in high-contact indoor sports (basketball, wrestling, water polo). Fully vaccinated athletes do not have to participate in screening testing. Screening testing must be performed twice weekly using a molecular or antigen test. A rapid antigen test should be performed on all unvaccinated athletes within 24 hours of the competition. In a multi-day event, testing should occur before each competition. The second test during the week should be performed 3-4 days prior to or after the competition and may be a molecular or antigen test. If a molecular test is performed, the athlete does not need to isolate while awaiting screening test results unless they are exhibiting symptoms.
Unvaccinated athletes participating in indoor low- or moderate-contact sports are recommended, but not required, to participate in screening testing once or twice weekly. This is especially important when community transmission is substantial or high. Please see the CDC’s matrix (Table 1) for definitions of the levels of community transmission.
Any athlete with a positive test must be excluded from the event and removed from the venue. See Responding to Cases or Suspected Cases of COVID-19 for more information. Positive test results must be reported to the local health jurisdiction as outlined in the Reporting Cases and Outbreaks and Working with Public Health section. Contact tracing should be performed per guidance in the “What to Do if Someone is a Close Contact of Someone with COVID-19” section. The team should work with local public health to determine how to approach isolation, quarantine, and further testing.
Unvaccinated athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and other support personnel identified as close contacts should quarantine immediately, even if they recently had a negative test.
Fully vaccinated athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and other support personnel identified as close contacts should be tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. They should isolate and follow appropriate guidance if they test positive. If they develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they should isolate themselves from others, be clinically evaluated for COVID-19, and tested for SARS-CoV-2 if indicated. The symptomatic fully vaccinated person should inform their healthcare provider of their vaccination status at the time of presentation to care.
All point of care test results should be reported to the DOH in accordance with guidance available at the Reporting COVID-19 Test Results for Point-of-Care Testing Facilities site.