Connell High School football coach Wayne Riner spent much of his day Friday despondent following the announcement that while the rest of the state was cleared to go, his team would have to wait at least two weeks to start its season. Connell is in the South Central region of the state’s reopening plan, the school was in the only region — the South Central region — that wouldn’t be allowed to advance to Phase 2 on Monday, and Riner was so disappointed, he had a hard time going out to practice.
In a quick reversal, his disappointment turned to relief. Turns out, the decision to hold the South Central region back in Phase 1 was made because of a clerical error.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Sunday that the region will join the rest of the state on Monday and move into Phase 2, which means high schools will be allowed to resume sports seasons statewide. The news came three days after five more regions were approved to move to Phase 2 on Thursday.
The Yakima Health District discovered an error by the Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla that inflated the number of new COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the region, one of the four metrics the state uses to assess whether a region can move to Phase 2, when in actuality the region had shown a decline.
The South Central region includes Yakima, Kittitas, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla and Columbia County and the news sent high school sports leagues spanning those six counties back to the scheduling drawing board.
According to Inslee’s two-phased Healthy Washington reopening plan, regions that meet three of the four trend-based COVID-19 metrics may move into Phase 2. Those four metrics are a 10 percent decrease in positive COVID-19 cases, a 10 percent decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations and an intensive care unit occupancy rate under 90 percent.
Initially, the South Central region showed a 41 percent 14-day decrease in new cases per 100,000, and an ICU occupancy rate of 86 percent. New hospitalizations over a 14-day period was initially reported at a 9 percent increase. But once the error was detected, the region cleared the metric.
In Phase 2, moderate and high risk outdoor sports can resume. The WIAA crafted a three-season calendar that puts traditional fall sports first in line. Leagues around the state have largely mirrored that.
While much of the state is preparing to return to full contact practice, some leagues in the Tacoma area held jamborees on Friday.
Like many coaches across the South Central region, Riner can hardly wait to resume his own season. Connell was allowed to practice for nearly two months in the fall, but that was shut down because of rising COVID-19 cases. Now, the team will regroup at practice Tuesday and prepare for its season opener against Toppenish on Saturday. Schools across the region are in a similar position.
“I had 10 seniors text me today, they’re excited, we’re excited,” Riner said. “Can you imagine being a senior? That’s what sucks, I’m excited for all the seniors that stuck it out.
“These kids are ready just to slap somebody. My own kid, he’s chomping at the bit. He’s excited.”