The Virginia High School League (VHSL) is requiring participating schools to follow health recommendations from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) that strongly advise student-athletes to wear masks at all times while on the sidelines as well as during practices and games, the league said Thursday.
In a press release emailed to media outlets, VHSL Executive Director John “Billy” Haun announced the decision to adhere to the state health department.
“With the support of the Governor’s office and our VHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, the VHSL is requiring each school to follow the recommendations of the Virginia Department of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics,” Haun said.
Haun added that there are some sports where athletes will not need to be wearing masks all the time, including cheerleading, gymnastics, wrestling and swim and dive. This means that, of the six VHSL winter sports, only basketball and indoor track and field will need to comply with the VDH recommendation.
The VHSL also warned that if wearing a mask during practice or competitions is difficult, participating in sports this season is not advisable.
“There is strong evidence to show that mask use prevents the spread of COVID-19,” the VDH said in its considerations for recreational sports. “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.”
The VDH also said that indoor environments, like basketball games, are considered to be higher risk for spreading the coronavirus.
Under the adopted VHSL Championship +1 schedule, basketball and cheerleading teams across the Commonwealth were allowed to begin practices and tryouts on December 7th, with the first basketball games beginning on December 21st. However, a number of districts and specific schools, such as Henrico County, have already cancelled their winter sports seasons due to COVID.
As of Tuesday, 21 school divisions and 38 individual high schools – including basketball powerhouse John Marshall – are not participating in the condensed winter sports season, according the VHSL.
Indoor track and field, wrestling, swim and dive and gymnastics can begin practice starting today, and the seasons for those sports kick off at the end of the month on December 28th.
The VHSL also announced that the league will comply with new occupancy rules for recreational sports spectators that were a part of Governor Ralph Northam’s latest statewide coronavirus restrictions. Now, spectators will be limited to 25 people per field/court for indoor sports. For sports played outdoors, only two spectators per player are allowed.
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