by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Student athletes at Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) no longer have to wear a mask while practicing and competing outdoors. Per newly announced state guidelines, students will still be required to wear a mask when they are not “actively playing,” such as while they are on the sidelines. Students will also still have to wear a mask when playing indoors.
School Board member Steve Schild said he is in support of the new policy, given the lower risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors; however, he said, he would like the Minnesota State High School League to ensure all those attending sporting events adhere to it. “The new rules seem to make sense to me, as long as there’s thorough enforcement of those rules on the playing field, on the benches and among the spectators,” he said. It would be valuable for the league to explain how school districts can stay in line with the policy, he added.
At WAPS, there is signage reminding fans to wear masks, Activities Director Casey Indra said. He and announcers remind spectators, as well.
School Board Chair Nancy Denzer also said she agrees with the new policy, as she feels the delineations between when students are active and may go without a mask and when they are not active and must wear one is clear. “I’m supportive of these slow transitions into making our students be able to compete safely, but also have opportunities to start reducing some of the restrictions,” Denzer said. She added that she supports the slow transitions as long as the district can maintain the safety of students, families and spectators.
Schild said he recognizes the importance of athletics for students and families, but he also acknowledges the severity of the pandemic. “If we don’t strictly and consistently enforce rules that are put in place to keep people safe, then I think we are failing in our responsibility to protect students and families and to be a responsible part of the community,” he said.
For WAPS track and field, students will wear masks when on the bus to attend meets. Additionally, they will do so at meets when not warming up or competing, Indra said. They will wear masks during team meetings, as well. For WAPS baseball, students will wear masks while in the dugout and during team meetings, Indra said. In contrast, members of the girls golf team decided that they will wear masks at all times. “They don’t want anything or any other person to deter them from competing, and they want to be safe,” Indra said. “And I support that wholeheartedly.”
In addition to the masking policy shift, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has strongly recommended that student athletes be tested for coronavirus each week and middle and high school students be tested every two weeks. The state has said it will provide saliva test kits to middle schools, high schools and sports teams for free, as well, though WAPS officials haven’t said yet whether they will take advantage of the program.