The Virginia High School League will require players to wears masks during practice and in competition in most sports, the league announced Thursday.
The league said it will follow Virginia Department of Health recommendations that “during times of substantial COVID-19 activity VDH strongly advises athletes to wear masks at all times during group training, competition, and on the sidelines.”
“With the support of the Governor’s office and our VHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), the VHSL is requiring each school to follow the recommendations of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP),” VHSL executive director Billy Haun said in a release. “There are some sports in which the mask should not be worn, such as cheerleading, gymnastics, wrestling and swim and dive.”
Last week, with coronavirus cases surging, the federal Centers for Disease Control called for “universal” wearing of masks for all activity outside of a person’s home to help stop the spread of the disease.
The state department of health says “there is strong evidence to show that mask use prevents the spread of COVID-19. We also know that participating in sports has both physical and psychological health benefits. Risks from the virus can be decreased if athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators follow public health guidelines. … If wearing a mask makes participation in sports difficult, it is advisable not to participate in sports at this time.”
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association has been requiring youth and amateur athletes to wear masks while playing indoor and outdoor sports, according to The Charlotte Observer.
The VHSL policy will raise concerns among players and parents.
On its website in September, the Mayo Clinic Health System said it’s safe to wear a mask while exercising, “but considerations should be made. For example, it’s recommended that you perform low- to moderate-intensity exercise rather than vigorous exercise while wearing a mask. This is because of the decreased airflow allowed through the mask which can affect breathing and your ability to properly regulate body temperature.”
On its website, the World Health Organization says that “even when you’re in an area of COVID-19 transmission, masks should not be worn during vigorous physical activity because of the risk of reducing your breathing capacity.”
Basketball tryouts and practice started Monday for VHSL schools. Games can begin on Dec. 21.
Other winter sports — gymnastics, indoor track, swimming and diving, and wrestling — can start tryouts/practice this coming Monday, with contests beginning Dec. 28.
A few area private schools already have played basketball games while others are in wait-and-see mode. Chesterfield County schools, which began practices on Monday along with some other area public schools, are planning to start playing games the first week of January.
School systems in Henrico County and the City of Richmond have decided their teams will not play winter sports, and the Hanover County school system has suspended practices and conditioning. A decision on whether to play will come no later than Dec. 18, according to a release from the school system.
“If it takes players wearing masks in practice/games to allow our kids to play, then that is what we will do,” said Mickey Swartz, the activities director at Cosby High in Chesterfield. “Cosby athletes and coaches handled COVID protocols great this week and will continue to do so. … Play on.”
Gov. Ralph Northam also amended spectator limits for high school/recreational sports. The limit remains at 25 people per field for indoor sports, Northam said, but two guests per player will be allowed at outdoor sports.