VHSL reverses course, will not require masks

Published 4:38 pm Thursday, December 17, 2020

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The Virginia High School League (VHSL) clarified Monday, Dec. 14, that it will not require masks to be worn in games and practices, though other elements from its Thursday, Dec. 10, press release remain in place.

On Dec. 10, the VHSL announced that it “is requiring each school to follow the recommendations of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the American Academy of Pediatrics” that students and coaches wear masks while participating in sports. This requirement was issued in response to information that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s requirement to wear face coverings would include such a provision.

However, Executive Order (EO) 72, when issued, stated that face coverings requirements “do not apply to … individuals exercising or using exercise equipment.”

“VHSL apologizes for any confusion created by its original release,” VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun said. “We ask the public to understand that it is the first mission of VHSL to make sure that athletics are conducted in a safe and healthy environment, and it was that desire that motivated the original decision.”

Accordingly, VHSL is rescinding its “requirement” that face coverings be worn during training and competition and is reissuing its guidance to conform with the intent of Northam’s EO 72 that face masks are “strongly encouraged” but not required. Each school may continue to exercise its discretion and judgment as to safety steps within its athletics programs as it pertains to face coverings.

In the Thursday release, the VHSL was clarifying the impact of updated statewide measures and recommendations to contain COVID-19 on VHSL sports and activities.

“There is strong evidence to show that mask use prevents the spread of COVID-19,” VHSL officials said in the release. “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.”

Additionally, if wearing a mask makes participation in sports difficult, it is advisable not to participate in sports at this time.

Also, the VHSL will comply with EO 72 capacity limits.

For sports played indoors, spectators must be limited to 25 persons per field (indoor courts). For sports played outdoors, spectators are limited to two guests per player. The total number of spectators cannot exceed 30% of the occupancy load of the certificate of occupancy for the venue.