High school football teams in Oregon got some long-awaited good news Wednesday.
The Governor's Office said in a release that the Oregon Health Authority will revise its guidance for outdoor contact sports, easing restrictions for schools that have returned to at least limited in-person learning.
The new guidance will allow football teams, who began non-contact practices Monday, to progress to contact practices next week and start the season as scheduled March 1, provided they meet requirements for in-person instruction and follow health and safety protocols.
Schools in counties that are lower and moderate risk can move forward with their football plans. For those in high and extreme risk counties, schools “must offer on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19,” according to the release.
The OSAA is encouraged by the news as it waits for more information from the state. OSAA executive director Peter Weber said he anticipates more details coming today or Thursday.
“We're excited to get more kids back to participating,” Weber said. “We need to get the details to sift through so then we can provide some guidance to the schools.”
In particular, the OSAA will seek clarification on how schools in high and extreme risk counties can comply with the new guidance.
“We need to figure out what those schools need to do,” Weber said. “To opt in, what does that look like? And how can we assist our schools in making that happen? We need the details when those are out there so we can put it into place.”
In addition to meeting health and safety protocols, schools in high and extreme risk counties wishing to resume outdoor contact sports “must also have at least limited in-person instruction occurring, with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year,” the release said. “Schools must also be in compliance with state guidance for COVID-19 testing.”
Currently, all Oregon counties meet the COVID-19 case count advisory metrics for limited in-person instruction.
Gov. Kate Brown called on high school athletes to be “leaders in your communities,” reminding them of their responsibility on and off the field. She said that if the COVID-19 numbers spike, the state might have to shut down contact sports again.
“It is not lost on me that this decision today will allow high school football to resume, when too many high school classrooms across Oregon remain empty,” Brown said.
“To all the parents of student athletes and coaches who have called and emailed me in the last year asking for school sports to resume, I am challenging you now to devote your energy to making sure in-person academics can resume for your kids, too.
“If our school gyms, fields, and weight rooms are to reopen, we owe it to Oregon’s children to make sure our classrooms, libraries, and science labs fully reopen as well.”
Indoor contact sports continue to be prohibited in all counties.