Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday, Feb. 10, that the Oregon Health Authority will be revising its guidance for outdoor sports, as well as the exemption for college athletics.
“This has been a difficult year for Oregon’s youth athletes and, as our COVID-19 numbers have dropped, I have been committed to working with our health experts to reevaluate our protocols for sports,” said Brown. “School sports play an important role in fostering students’ mental, emotional, and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families, and their communities.”
Beginning this week, outdoor contact sports will be permitted to resume with health and safety protocols in place based on county risk level. In Lower Risk and Moderate Risk counties, practices and games for outdoor contact sports, including high school football, can resume following health and safety guidance to be issued by the Oregon Health Authority.
In High Risk and Extreme Risk counties, where COVID-19 remains more widespread, schools and other sports organizations can opt-in to resuming outdoor contact sports with additional protocols in place. In such counties, sports organizations must offer on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.
Schools in Extreme and High Risk counties wishing to opt in for outdoor contact sports must meet the requirements for sports organizations above, and must also have at least limited in-person instruction occurring, with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year. Schools must also be in compliance with state guidance for COVID-19 testing. All Oregon counties currently meet the COVID-19 case count advisory metrics for limited in-person instruction. As of February 12, 11 Oregon counties in High Risk, including Portland metro-area counties, will also meet the advisory metrics threshold, under 200 cases per 100,000, to return to at least hybrid in-person instruction.
Current Abbott BinaxNOW rapid testing resources for schools can be used for on-site testing of symptomatic student athletes. Schools and sports organizations will also be encouraged to explore partnerships with the university system for student athlete testing.
Those schools and sports organizations in High and Extreme Risk counties that do not opt in and implement the protocols and requirements above will continue to be limited to non-contact sports, practices and games. Indoor contact sports continue to be prohibited in all counties, due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Brown continued: “To all of Oregon’s high school athletes: I am asking you now to be leaders in your communities. We’ve given you the chance to play, but with that opportunity comes great responsibility. If COVID-19 numbers spike, we may have to shut down contact sports again. When you are off the field, set the example for your peers: wear a mask, maintain physical distance, and avoid social gatherings.
“It is not lost on me that this decision today will allow high school football to resume, when too many high school classrooms across Oregon remain empty. To all the parents of student athletes and coaches who have called and emailed me in the last year asking for school sports to resume, I am challenging you now to devote your energy to making sure in-person academics can resume for your kids, too. If our school gyms, fields, and weight rooms are to reopen, we owe it to Oregon’s children to make sure our classrooms, libraries, and science labs fully reopen as well.”
In addition, with COVID-19 case counts going down across the state, the Oregon Health Authority will be updating the exemption for college sports––allowing Division 2, Division 3, and NAIA schools to submit health and safety plans to resume college athletics. However, all such teams must still meet the same rigorous standards that Oregon’s Division 1 programs have met before they will be permitted to resume full activities––including regular COVID-19 testing, plans for contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, and health and safety protocols for practices and games.