There has been a lot of questions and speculation about the use of masks and face coverings during the fall sports season, which started Monday for most schools across Section V and NYS.
Would everyone be required to wear a mask in sports where six feet of separation is not a possibility?
What about if a student-athlete suffers from asthma or any other medical condition that wearing a mask could hinder?
Would they be allowed to remove their masks?
Former Section V Girls Soccer Chairman and head coach of the two-time NYS champion York Lady Knights Vic VanVliet said there are many concerns heading into the season.
“The issue really is with all the school superintendents that signed a form for their re-opening plan,” VanVliet said. “They signed that they would do everything within the guidelines of those re-opening plans. And one of those is wearing a mask.”
Prior to each school district opening this fall, school superintendents signed off on their 150-page documents that they would follow all the guidelines that were put in place so that they could open this fall, and continue to stay open.
“These school superintendents signed off that all their students would wear masks when they are within 12-feet of each other during school and gym class and then at 3 p.m. these same students head out to soccer practice and that’s where things get kind of blurred.”
New York State Public High School Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Zayas agrees.
In NYSPHSAA’s 50-page ‘Return to Interscholastic Athletics Resource Document,’ that came out Sept. 11, 2020, it states, “Responsible Parties must ensure a distance of at least six feet is maintained among individuals at all times, whether indoor or outdoor, unless safety or the core activity (e.g. practicing, playing) requires a shorter distance. If a shorter distance is required, individuals must wear acceptable face coverings, unless players are unable to tolerate a face covering for the physical activity (e.g. practicing, playing); provided, however, that coaches, trainers, and other individuals who are not directly engaged in physical activity are required to wear a face covering.”
Zayas is hoping that the Department of Health might help clarify some of this in the near future.
“If you can’t maintain six feet you have to wear a mask unless a student-athlete cannot tolerate it during physical activity,” Zayas said. “Right now the only thing I’ve seen in writing from the Department of Heath is that verbiage I just cited and until we’re given anything else in writing that’s what we have to go by.”
Zayas said the face covering issue is a big one right now.
“The face covering topic is being widely discussed,” Zayas said. “The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) requires that when six feet social distance cannot be maintained, a face covering must be worn, unless a student cannot tolerate a face covering during physical activity. Any action to make NYSDOH guidance more restrictive would be an individual school district decision without endorsement or support from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. I am advising school districts that questions pertaining to the interpretation of NYSDOH guidance should be directed to local and state department of health representatives.”
Which now leads back to the school superintendents who have all signed off on the safety and well being of their student-athletes.
“That is definitely an issue right now,” VanVliet added. “I think there is a concern with many of our superintendents, and for very good reason. They signed off that these kids would wear a mask at all times when within the social distancing guidelines, yet at 3 p.m. they can take their masks off at soccer practice if they can’t tolerate them during practice or a game. We will need more clarification. They don’t want to put themselves in any liability issues and I can understand that.”
In York, according to VanVliet and athletic director Eddie Orman Jr., “all student-athletes at York will be wearing face coverings at all times except when they can socially distance more than 12 feet.”
VanVliet says many programs in the area are going with the popular Gaiter face coverings while others are doing mandatory masks at all times.