With COVID-19 cases surging in Pennsylvania and the high school soccer season reaching its final weekend, there’s one final caveat added to what’s been the most unprecedented season of our lifetimes: we may see players now wearing masks on the field at Hersheypark Stadium on Friday and Saturday.
Pennsylvania is strengthening its mask mandate and will require out-of-state travelers to test negative for the coronavirus before arrival, health officials announced Tuesday, taking additional steps to address a sharp increase in infections and hospitalizations.
Like the rest of the nation, Pennsylvania has seen coronavirus infections explode in recent weeks. The state is reporting more than 5,000 new infections per day, up more than 115% in just two weeks.
In light of this mandate, the PIAA has requested guidance on the state’s renewed mask mandate, signed into order on November 17th, just three days before the start of winter sports in the state — and the soccer championships. PIAA is looking to clarify whether students would be required to wear masks during practice and competition. Following its board meeting, the PIAA board urged schools to add mask mandate language to health and safety plans. The PIAA also plans to petition lawmakers for leniency in the mandate for athletes.
Still, with the PIAA Soccer Championships being played in Hershey this weekend, starting Friday when the mask mandate goes into affect, with eight WPIAL schools participating, the situation appears to be a bit fluid.
In multiple news reports, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi is urging schools to consult their solicitors and has noted the mandate has exception for “unsafe condition.”
What we do know, is officials will be wearing masks as well as coaches and players not in the games.
At this point, there’s still some uncertainty as to what will happen with the players on the field.
Pittsburgh Soccer Now reached out to a few WPIAL soccer coaches and two athletic directors of schools playing this weekend. Only one consistent message has followed: no one is sure what they’ll be doing. One athletic director did confirm that they’re consulting with the school district’s attorney for further guidance.
As released by the Department of Health, and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, the new mask mandate covers the following scenarios:
- Masks are required to be worn indoors and outdoors if you are away from your home.
- When outdoors, a mask must be worn if you are not able to remain physically distant (at least 6 feet away) from someone not in your household the entire time you are outdoors.
- When indoors, masks will now be required even if you are physically distant from members not in your household. This means that even if you are able to be 6 feet apart, you will need to wear a mask while inside if with people other than members of your household.
- This order applies to every indoor facility, including homes, retail establishments, gyms, doctors’ offices, public transportation, and anywhere food is prepared, packaged or served.
The Department of Health addressed sports in its Frequently Asked Questions portion of the DOH website:
Does the Order apply to athletes and sports activities?
Yes. Everyone who participates in sport activities including coaches, athletes (including cheerleaders), and spectators must wear a face covering, such as a mask, unless they fall under an exception in Section 3 of the Order.
Indoors: Coaches, athletes (including cheerleaders), and spectators must wear face coverings, when indoors and where another person or persons who are not members of the individual’s household are present in the same space, irrespective of physical distance. This includes while actively engaged in workouts, competition, and on the sidelines, etc.
Outdoors: Coaches, athletes (including cheerleaders), and spectators must wear face coverings if they cannot maintain sustained physical distance from persons outside of their household. This includes while actively engaged in workouts, competition, and on the sidelines, in the dugout, etc. If sustained six-foot distancing can be maintained, face coverings may be removed when outdoors.