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CDC, state changes in mask guidance trickles down to high school sports: no more mask requirement outdoors

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, May 14, 2021, 8:33 pm

The tapping you could hear was Mark Uyl continually hitting the refresh button on his web browser, and then switching tabs to check his email.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s executive director spent most of Friday afternoon waiting for an update, one that would delineate how the loosening of the mask restrictions at the national and state level might trickle down to high school athletics.

“I’m afraid this might be some really bad radio here for the next two minutes. But I’ve literally been sitting at my desk for the last two hours, continuing to hit refresh on the MDHHS website page. We have been told that an updated epidemic order is going to be released soon,” Uyl said on the Huge Show radio program late Friday afternoon, as he was waiting for the specifics of the new epidemic order to be posted. 

“I’m tired of seeing May 6 orders the top one. And hopefully that May order becomes the 14th or 15th. And again, we’re hopeful that tomorrow morning come 9 a.m. things will look different especially for our soccer and lacrosse kids.”

The update to the epidemic order finally came Friday evening: Face masks are no longer required for anyone for outdoor sports, nor are masks required anywhere for fully vaccinated individuals. 

This includes participants — previously, masks were required for ‘contact’ outdoor sports of lacrosse and soccer — as well as coaches, officials and spectators. 

As soon as the MHSAA got word, it pressed ‘send’ on the emailed guidance to schools it had pre-written.

[NOTE: The new MDHHS epidemic order was posted Friday evening, after the first version of this story was published. The story has now been updated to reflect the contents of the order.]

“We’re just hoping that we get an updated epidemic order here very, very quickly so we can get the official word out to our schools. … [B]est case scenario, less than 24 hours, actually, less than 20 hours we could hopefully be in a place to where all of our spring sports can finish up with masks no longer being required,” Uyl said in the afternoon, before the update was posted. “Our staff, we right now, we have the email written based on the reports that we’re getting that once we get confirmation, we’ll hit send and that will go to everybody within our school community which are administrators in our coaches, and hopefully, we’ll have good news to confirm here shortly.”

It follows in line with the updates on a broader scale across the state and nation. 

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask usage guidelines, indicating that “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting,” unless still mandated locally. 

Friday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the MDHHS announced similar relaxing of the state’s mandates. Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, no one will be required to wear a mask outdoors, regardless of vaccination status. Fully vaccinated people can opt not to wear them indoors now, but those who are not yet vaccinated will still need to wear a face covering indoors, until the broad mask mandate expires on July 1. 

There is, however, no loosening of the requirement for all spring athletes — unless they’re vaccinated — to be tested, something that Uyl had been hoping to see. 

“Michigan has been red for the last three months. Well, today was the first day that we’re back in the yellow category. So our case numbers are falling positive test rates are falling,” Uyl said in the afternoon. “That weekly testing requirement, that right now is scheduled to expire on May 31. You know, even hoping that there could be some, some early, early tweaks to that as well, just because testing during the summer months, with schools on their break and recess, is going to be a real challenge.”

A way around the testing, however, is for athletes (and coaches) to be vaccinated, which precludes them from the requirement to be tested. The U.S. dropped the age minimum for getting the vaccine to 12 years old this week. 

Ultimately, Uyl is hoping for a continuance of the slow move back toward some sense of normalcy — especially if this step is an indication of the possibility of a summer with no mask mandate. 

“Incredible. No, and I think the fatigue and the frustration that’s built up with all of us over the last 15 months, I just — yes, to have a summer with no masks … and then, you know, from our perspective … looking forward to an August, that appears that that will even start as normally as it can be, it is really answered prayers,” Uyl said. 

There were no changes to the limits on the numbers of spectators for outdoor events, but there were a few tweaks to the rules for indoor sports activities — something that could come into play as the summer rolls around, and practices for fall sports begin. 

The new order stipulates that indoor sporting events are prohibited, unless “organizers make a good faith effort to ensure compliance with” the indoor mask requirements, and all participants comply with the stipulations of the testing program outlined in an interim guidance document also posted Friday.  

“So our summer rules normally kick in … Monday, June 7 — that’s the Monday after our state track and field finals, it’s the Monday after baseball/softball districts, it’s the Monday after district soccer the opening rounds of our golf and tennis tournaments, opening rounds of lacrosse. So starting on June 7, that’s when all of our summer activity — which you know it’s a lot of team camps indoors with basketball and volleyball, it’s a ton of time with kids in the weight room, you know, getting stronger and in faster for the fall. Outdoors, it’s summer baseball and softball, it’s football, 7-on-7s. It’s cross country kids getting in their summer miles,” Uyl said. 

“So we’re hoping that by the time June 7 gets here, that it’ll be a world without face masks. Again, what it looks like right now is for all of our outdoor activities, a big unanswered question is what do kids in the gym, what does that look like during the last three weeks of June? And then the biggest question right now is, does testing end on May 31? … And we’re, again, we’re just hoping, because those test results … are very consistent with what they’ve been all year running. Again, what we’re just hearing from leagues and conferences, big schools, that their positive test rates are below one percent. We are hoping that the required weekly testing is something that disappears come June.”

 

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask usage guidelines, indicating that “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting,” unless still mandated locally. 

Friday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the MDHHS announced similar relaxing of the state’s mandates. Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, no one will be required to wear a mask outdoors, regardless of vaccination status. Fully vaccinated people can opt not to wear them indoors now, but those who are not yet vaccinated will still need to wear a face covering indoors, until the broad mask mandate expires on July 1. 

Where does that leave high school athletes? 

That depends on how the new MDHHS epidemic order specifically reads. The governor’s press release did not specifically touch on the subject, so Uyl was waiting for further information at the time of the interview.

“We’re just hoping that we get an updated epidemic order here very, very quickly so we can get the official word out to our schools. … [B]est case scenario, less than 24 hours, actually, less than 20 hours we could hopefully be in a place to where all of our spring sports can finish up with masks no longer being required,” Uyl said. “Our staff, we right now, we have the email written based on the reports that we’re getting that once we get confirmation, we’ll hit send and that will go to everybody within our school community which are administrators in our coaches, and hopefully, we’ll have good news to confirm here shortly.”

In the spring season, only athletes in the designated ‘contact’ sports of soccer and lacrosse needed to wear masks under the old MDHHS epidemic orders. 

Uyl was uncertain if there might be more in the new epidemic order, as well, such as a loosening of the testing requirements that were put in place for spring athletics. 

“Michigan has been red for the last three months. Well, today was the first day that we’re back in the yellow category. So our case numbers are falling positive test rates are falling,” Uyl said. “That weekly testing requirement, that right now is scheduled to expire on May 31. You know, even hoping that there could be some, some early, early tweaks to that as well, just because testing during the summer months, with schools on their break and recess, is going to be a real challenge.”

Ultimately, Uyl is hoping for a continuance of the slow move back toward some sense of normalcy — especially if this step is an indication of the possibility of a summer with no mask mandate. 

“Incredible. No, and I think the fatigue and the frustration that’s built up with all of us over the last 15 months, I just — yes, to have a summer with no masks, with no testing, and then, you know, from our perspective … looking forward to an August, that appears that that will even start as normally as it can be, it is really answered prayers,” Uyl said. 

How that translates to the summer and to indoor sports, remains to be seen, as well.

“So our summer rules normally kick in … Monday, June 7 — that’s the Monday after our state track and field finals, it’s the Monday after baseball/softball districts, it’s the Monday after district soccer the opening rounds of our golf and tennis tournaments, opening rounds of lacrosse. So starting on June 7, that’s when all of our summer activity — which you know it’s a lot of team camps indoors with basketball and volleyball, it’s a ton of time with kids in the weight room, you know, getting stronger and in faster for the fall. Outdoors, it’s summer baseball and softball, it’s football, 7-on-7s. It’s cross country kids getting in their summer miles,” Uyl said. 

“So we’re hoping that by the time June 7 gets here, that it’ll be a world without face masks. Again, what it looks like right now is for all of our outdoor activities, a big unanswered question is what do kids in the gym, what does that look like during the last three weeks of June? And then the biggest question right now is, does testing end on May 31? Does testing end earlier than May 31? And we’re, again, we’re just hoping, because those test results … are very consistent with what they’ve been all year running. Again, what we’re just hearing from leagues and conferences, big schools, that their positive test rates are below one percent. We are hoping that the required weekly testing is something that disappears come June.”