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WIAA updates guidelines again for return of school-based activities

by CASEY MCCARTHY
Staff Writer | October 15, 2020 1:00 AM

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association recently revised the guidelines for the return of school-based sports and activities. Rather than continuing to follow the phases of the Governor’s Safe Start Plan, the new guidelines will be based upon COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period and the percentage of positive tests, with guidance from the Department of Health.

The WIAA’s revised guidelines will ideally give more flexibility for school administrators to meet the needs of their students and community. The WIAA staff will continue to work with decision-makers for sports deemed high-risk with hopes of appropriately recategorizing them as moderate risk.

County benchmarks will be used to help determine which activities and sports can become available based on COVID-19 activity. This breaks down into a three-tier system based on high, moderate and low risk.

High-risk categorization comes when a county has had more than 75 cases per 100,000 over the previous 14 days, or a positivity rate higher than 5 percent. In this category, team practices and training can resume for all activities as long as participants are limited to groups of six separated by a buffer area, with limited close contact acceptable.

Any league, group, or organization must publish the guidelines it will follow for safely returning to activity. Scrimmages and intra-squad competitions can resume for low-risk activities but are discouraged if schools are not conducting some in-person learning.

No tournaments are allowed, nor are spectators other than one parent/guardian/caregiver for each participant.

Moderate risk qualification involves having between 25 and 75 cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks and a positivity rate below 5 percent. Competition can be held for low- and moderate-risk activities and sports in this standing. High-risk tournament and spectator limits still apply.

With cases below 25 per 100,000 and a positivity rate below 5 percent, counties enter the low-risk qualification. Activities can resume for all risk categories in this tier, including tournaments. Spectators are allowed to return, following the safety measures from the Safe Start Plan.

Low-risk activities include: cross country, golf, sideline/no contact cheerleading and dance, swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field. Moderate-risk activities now include: baseball, bowling, gymnastics, soccer, softball and volleyball. High-risk activities include: basketball, cheerleading and dance with contact, football and wrestling.

Moses Lake High School Athletic Director Loren Sandhop said the new guidelines offer coaches a chance to meet up with their athletes and get some early work going before the season.

“It’s an opportunity for coaches to start getting the kids in shape, start doing some of the social, emotional stuff, being back and seeing each other, and doing some practicing,” Sandhop said.

Right now, he and his staff are working on the logistics of how many small groups, or pods, they can fit in the spaces they have available. Even with Grant County still in the high-risk tier, the new guidelines allow for sports to resume practices.

Sandhop said he was working on communicating plans for a return with coaches Tuesday afternoon. He said the hope is to have some low-risk activities return to action as early as Monday, Oct. 19, but still needs to confirm everything with the school board and health department.

A start next week gives nine weeks before competition resumes.

“What we’re doing is breaking that up, basically giving each activity about three weeks to have some sort of organization,” Sandhop said.

He said he’s looking at breaking up practice times by risk category rather than by season. Sandhop said his hope is that by pushing some of the higher-risk sports and activities back some, hopefully the COVID-19 numbers will be in better shape by then to allow for more options for coaches and players.

Sandhop said the WIAA and state officials have told them to remain nimble and flexible in their planning because changes in guidelines could come down at a moment’s notice. “And that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Casey McCarthy can be reached via email at cmccarthy@columbiabasinherald.com.