After examining the zig-zagging nature of COVID-19 cases over an extended period of time, the state powers-that-be in Washington — the Governor’s Office, the Department of Health and the WIAA — announced new return-to-action guidelines for high school sports and other extracurricular activities Tuesday.

And in place of the state’s previous “phase” recommendations tied to Governor Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” reopening plan will be more stringent statistical-benchmark regulations.

The news came out of a press conference Tuesday in which Gov. Inslee loosened restrictions for some restaurants and outdoor recreation and promoted the effectiveness wearing a mask serves in slowing the spread of airborne respiratory particles. Inslee also addressed directly if the high school football season would return.

“We’ll continue to look at this and listen to people, but at the moment we don’t think that’s in the cards,” Inslee said. He also pointed to the WIAA’s COVID-adjusted spring 2021 season.

For high-risk sports such as football, basketball and wrestling to return to competition, counties around Washington will need to maintain a 14-day COVID-19 case rate of fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 people — and less than a 5-percent positive rate.

Under that guideline, right now only eight counties in Washington would be eligible to play high-risk sports – Columbia County (zero new cases over past two-week cycle), Jefferson County (0.0), Wahkiakum County (0.0), San Juan County (0.0), Klickitat County (8.9), Ferry County (12.8), Okanogan County (16.4), Clallam Bay (18.4).

Contrast that to what is going on currently in some of the state’s biggest counties – King (53.9), Pierce (71.5), Snohomish (45.6), Spokane (191.8), Yakima (90.3) and Clark (79.4).

The news comes as an update to a previous recommendation from the governor’s office that education-based athletics do not take place in districts operating in online-only learning models. That created a scenario for much of the summer where club sports and private schools were allowed to practice under tight restrictions while school facilities largely remained closed.

The DOH and Governor’s office told the WIAA late in the summer that an update to its recommendation — Tuesday’s announcement — would come sometime in the fall.

Here are the three new tiers of statistical benchmarks and what is allowed as it relates to sports returning:

HIGH BENCHMARK (75 cases per 100,000 people over 14-day cycle OR greater than 5 percent rate of positive cases)

*Team practices/training can resume for all sports if limited to pods of six athletes in different parts of a field or court (preferably outdoors) – and separated by a buffer zone.

*Scrimmages and league games allowed for low-risk sports (cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field), but are discouraged if no in-person learning is taking place.

*No tournaments are allowed for any sport.

*No spectators allowed except for one parent or guardian per student-athlete.

MODERATE BENCHMARK (25-75 cases per 100K over 14-day cycle AND less than 5 percent rate of positive cases)

*Scrimmages and league games allowed for low-risk sports (cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field) and moderate-risk sports (baseball, bowling, gymnastics, soccer, softball, volleyball). Intra-team scrimmages allowed for high-risk sports (basketball, cheer and dance, football and wrestling).

*No tournaments are allowed for any sport.

*No spectators allowed except for one parent or guardian per student-athlete.

LOW BENCHMARK (Fewer than 25 cases per 100K over 14-day cycle AND less than 5 percent rate of positive cases)

*Scrimmages, league games and tournaments allowed for all sports.

*Spectators to follow gathering size limit previously established in Safe Start reopening plan.

Here is how the WIAA defines each sport:

LOW-RISK SPORTING ACTIVITIES: 
    • Cross Country 
    • Golf 
    • Sideline/no-contact cheerleading and dance 
    • Swimming and Diving 
    • Tennis 
    • Track and Field

MODERATE-RISK SPORTING ACTIVITIES: 
    • Baseball 
    • Bowling 
    • Gymnastics 
    • Soccer 
    • Softball 
    • Volleyball

HIGH-RISK SPORTING ACTIVITIES: 
    • Basketball 
    • Cheerleading with contact 
    • Dance with contact 
    • Football 
    • Wrestling

Here’s what Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday

Asked if high school football would be able to open up:

Watch the video feed of the following answer HERE.

“My understanding in most counties (it will) not, because it is considered a high risk. What we’ve done is an analysis of the risk associated with each kind of sport. Football is a higher risk, because it has more close-contact facial interactions for reasons we can understand. And at least at the moment, we haven’t found a way to develop the protocols that could keep the young people safe during that sport — by the way, it’s not just the young people, it’s their parents when they go home, and their grandparents and everybody else in their community that has a risk here. So we haven’t found a way to do that at this date, we think that there has been a way to be found at the professional level and college level, because frankly they have the financing that can do all the dozens of things they’ll be able to do with constant testing, putting people in pods and constant evaluation. (High schools) just cannot afford that, to do what the Seahawks are doing right now. We’ll continue to look at this and listen to people, but at the moment we don’t think that’s in the cards. I do want, if I may, at the moment, the WIAA, and that’s the group that makes the decision here. I actually did not make the decision, we have not made that particular decision specifically. But the WIAA is planning for a tackle football season next year. And that’ll be great if that happens. I think it’s reasonable to have a plan in that dimension, and I’m pleased, we’d love to have these folks playing football. It’s a lot of fun. We understand they’d like to get college scholarships. And we hope that they’re going to have great games as soon as they can.” 

Related:

UPDATED RETURN-TO-PLAY GUIDELINE

Statewide High School Sports Reporter at SBLive | andy@scorebooklive.com

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