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Feb. 28, 2021

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WIAA unveils new COVID return-to-play guidelines

Clark County’s cases must fall before basketball games allowed

By , Columbian Sports Editor

Clark County has a way to go before high school basketball or football games can take place, but practices remain possible even if COVID-19 cases remain high.

Tuesday, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association unveiled new guidelines for when high school athletics and activities can resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Those guidelines align with new requirements from the Governor’s Office and the Washington State Department of Health on how sports can operate.

The new guidelines revolve around each individual county’s virus data, specifically cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity rate. Previous guidelines were tied to Gov. Jay Inslee’s phased Safe Start Plan.

The guidelines lay out what activities are permitted for low-, medium- and high-risk sports depending on whether a county is seeing low, medium or high spread of the virus.

Currently, Clark County falls squarely into the “high” category for virus spread.

Data released Tuesday show virus activity accelerating across the county, with 95.60 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. That’s up from 63.1 at the end of August.

The new WIAA guidelines deem virus spread to be “high” if a county has more than 75 cases per 100,000, along with a test positivity rate of more than 5%.

So what does that mean for Clark County high school sports?

Some sports are set to begin during the last week of December in Season 2 of the WIAA’s modified sports calendar. Those include basketball, wrestling, bowling, gymnastics and boys swimming/diving.

Basketball and wrestling are deemed high-risk sports by the WIAA. Under the new guidelines, competitions can’t happen in high-risk sports until a county sees under 25 cases per 100,000 residents.

But that doesn’t mean practices would be shuttered. Even if a county is in the “high” category, teams can train in small groups, including 3-on-3 drills.

Moderate-risk sports, which include gymnastics and bowling, can begin competition if the county falls under 75 cases per 100,000. Low-risk sports, such as swimming, can compete even if a county is in the “high” category of virus spread.

For all sports, no spectators would be allowed except for one parent, guardian or caregiver until a county sees under 25 cases per 100,000.

The WIAA also left the door open for high-risk sports, which also includes football, to be reclassified as “moderate” risk.

“Staff will continue to work with decision-makers to evaluate participation in sports deemed high-risk by reviewing all data and documentation available in hopes it may be appropriate to qualify them as moderate risk,” the WIAA said in a news release.

Football practice is scheduled to begin in mid-February as part of Season 3. Other traditional fall sports are also set to start on March 1 as part of Season 3.

Those would be followed by traditional spring sports in Season 4, which begins in late April.

The WIAA said that local schools and districts cannot override the new guidelines.

“The Governor’s office has informed the WIAA that these guidelines must be followed and neither schools nor community sports programs have the authority to implement more lenient policies,” the WIAA said in a news release.