How Washington’s new outdoor mask mandate will impact high school football games going forward

Those going to high school football games across the state of Washington may need to wear masks starting this week.

As hospitals across Washington state deal with the worst peak of COVID-19 patients since the onset of the pandemic, a new statewide mandate went into effect Monday requiring spectators wear masks at any outdoor event with 500 or more attendees.

That will first impact high school football, the state’s biggest fall spectator sport, which is in the third week of games.

Coaches and players still fall under the Washington State Department of Health’s K-12 guidelines, which recommends but does not require masks be worn during play for most sports, including football, and they do not count toward the attendance number, which is different from the shortened spring season. 

Those occupying seating areas, such as fans, event staff and school bands, count toward the 500-person attendance number. 

“We have all done a lot of work over the last 18 months to get sports and activities back up and running,” the WIAA said in a statement Monday afternoon, “and we need to do everything in our power to make sure these participation opportunities continue to be available for our students.”

Masks are not required at outdoor events with fewer than 500 attendees and are required by spectators at all indoor sporting events. That gives schools the option to cap attendance at 500 in order to allow spectators the choice to not wear a mask.

La Center High School in Southwest Washington elected to cap attendance at 500 starting Friday. The No. 6 Wildcats (1A) have two marquee home games ahead in the schedule. They host No. 1 Kalama (2B) on Friday and No. 2 Eatonville (1A) on Sept. 24.

“We are tired of being the mask police at our events,” athletic director Matt Cooke said. “In order to follow the mandate the Governor has laid out, we felt the best course of action was to cap it at 500.”

La Center will use 250 tickets, giving each senior football player and cheerleader five sports, freshman through juniors three spot, along with 60 for the student section, 40 for the band and 150 tickets for the opposing team’s fans.

(Lead photo by Taylor Balkum)

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