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Virginia Tech football players won't have to wear face coverings while playing at Pitt on Saturday
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Virginia Tech football players won't have to wear face coverings while playing at Pitt on Saturday

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Masks have become a common feature of Virginia Tech football practices amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of Pittsburgh reversed course and now says football players in Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech will not have to wear masks or other protective face coverings while playing in the contest.

The change comes after the state’s health department reversed its position on its new COVID-19 safety order.

Earlier in the day, Pittsburgh indicated players from both teams would have to wear some form of personal protective equipment while competing at Heinz Field because of a new order from the Pennsylvania department of health.

The Panthers planned to wear gaiters under their helmets, but by late Friday afternoon the school announced the state’s new interpretation of its order means athletes are covered by an exemption.

“Pitt football student-athletes will be outfitted with face coverings throughout the game. However, they will not be required to have the coverings pulled up while in the midst of play to prevent the impairment of breathing. Such usage of face coverings during competition would be in compliance with Section 3 of the Secretary of Health’s Face Covering Order,” the school announced.

Pittsburgh’s game this past weekend against Georgia Tech was postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks within both programs as the virus’ impact on college football has grown in recent weeks.

The Pittsburgh-Georgia Tech game was one of 15 either canceled or postponed last week. They already have been joined by five more this week.

ACC commissioner John Swofford has said the league’s medical advisory group has found no evidence of COVID transmission during competition/practice. The virus has spread outside the sports bubble.

The new order in Pennsylvania requires masks “outdoors with others who are not members of a person’s household and unable to maintain sustained physical distance.”

“Coaches, athletes (including cheerleaders), and spectators must wear face coverings if they cannot maintain sustained physical distance from persons outside of their household. This includes while actively engaged in workouts, competition, and on the sidelines, in the dugout, etc. If sustained six-foot distancing can be maintained, face coverings may be removed when outdoors,” according to the state’s website.

The order included an exemption for cases where breathing would be impaired.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL, as well as Penn State University, said earlier it believed its football players were exempt, though a spokesman for the governor’s office told the Washington Post they are not.

Though NFL rules currently don’t require face coverings for players in games, they do require teams to abide by state regulations where they are playing.

“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and staff is paramount. The Governor’s new orders include limited exceptions for competition to be played without face coverings in the context of rigorous and stringent University and Big Ten testing, health and safety protocols. All other game day personnel have been required to wear masks and we will continue to enforce this guideline at our events,” PSU said in a statement.

The Nittany Lions host Iowa on Saturday.

At Pittsburgh, the Panthers won’t have to alter their fan attendance policy for the game. The limitations on fans in the stands has not changed since last month, the school announced. Pitt plans to have about 5,500 fans in attendance on Saturday.

About 1,000 of those will be students, pep band members and members of the school’s cheerleading squad and dance team.

In Virginia, the latest order from Gov. Ralph Northam has decreased the number of fans who can attend this Saturday’s UVA game against Abilene Christian at Scott Stadium from 1,000 to 250.

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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