On Wednesday night, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association set Feb. 1 as the season start for traditional fall sports.
And Gary McGarvie saw that as good news.
“Like anyone, I was optimistic and hopeful that this is going to be a day we can stick with,” Washougal High School’s athletic director said. “That was my first reaction.”
But then came the questions. So many questions.
Even though the WIAA set the Feb. 1 start date, that doesn’t mean that athletes in sports like football, girls soccer and cross country will begin practices on Feb. 1 or competitions on Feb. 8.
In order for that to happen, certain COVID-19 metrics must be met. And that’s where the questions come in.
“That’s the big problem,” McGarvie said. “I don’t have a clear understanding of how you go from Phase 1 to Phase 2 under the governor’s new health guidelines. And I’ve been in two different meetings today with a bunch of athletic directors, and we all have different opinions about that.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee introduced the “Healthy Washington” reopening plan, which changes how the state plans to loosen restrictions from the guidance outline in the state’s “Safe Start” plan from last spring.
For starters, the “Healthy Washington” plan reopens the state by geographic regions instead of by county. Clark County is now in the Southwest Region with Cowlitz, Skamania and Klickitat counties.
The plan also includes two phases of reopening, and the entire state is expected to be in Phase 1 when the plan takes effect on Monday.
“Sports like basketball and wrestling wouldn’t be possible until Phase 3, and they haven’t even announced a Phase 3 yet,” WIAA executive board president Tim Thomsen told the Eli Sports Network. “So clearly basketball and wrestling could not work. But suddenly football, which was a sport we were worried about (under the previous guidelines), could possibly work because the new guidelines allowed for outdoors sports in Phase 2.”
That led the WIAA executive board move traditional fall sports to the front of the revised prep calendar with the tentative Feb. 1 start date.
In Phase 1, low- and moderate-risk outdoor sports may start practices. Among traditional fall high school sports, that includes girls soccer, boys golf, boys tennis, cross country and slowpitch softball. Also, low-risk indoor sports (i.e. girls swimming) may begin practices in groups of five or fewer.
But for the fall sports of volleyball (considered a moderate-risk indoor sport by the state) and football (a high-risk outdoor sport), practices cannot begin until a region moves into Phase 2 of the plan. Also, competition in all fall sports can’t happen until a region has moved into Phase 2.
To move into Phase 2, a region must meet all four of the following metrics:
• Decreasing trend of greater than 10 percent in the two-week rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons.
• Decreasing trend of greater than 10 percent in the two-week rate of new COVID-19 hospital admission rates per 100,000.
• Total ICU occupancy of less than 90 percent.
• A COVID-19 test positivity rate of less than 10 percent.
To remain in Phase 2, a region must meet at least three of those metrics, with the caveat that the metrics for rates of cases and hospitalization are considered met if they continue to fall or remain flat.
The state is expected to announce the preliminary data regarding those metrics for each region on Friday.
Since Clark County represents 77 percent of the population of the four counties in the Southwest Region and 80 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the region, Clark County can serve as a bellwether for the region.
An initial glance shows three of those metrics being met, but precariously.
According to information on the Clark County Public Health website, the county’s two-week case rate has fallen each of the past three weeks by 3.7%, 11.1% and most recently 15.9% to 324 per 100,000 residents.
The county’s current percentage of ICU bed that are occupied is 84.4%, a number that has been rising in recent days.
And the most recent positivity rate from Dec. 19 was 9.41%.
The fourth metric — the rate of new COVID-19 hospitalization — was not available. However, Clark County Public Health’s daily updates have shown a steady increase in COVID-19 hospital patients from 37 on Dec. 24 to 83 on Thursday.
Also, during the pandemic, hospitalization rates have generally lagged by a couple weeks behind the new cases rate. So the recent decline in new cases could indicate a decline in hospitalizations could be forthcoming.
But until they do, a lot of uncertainty remains. And the window to get answers is rapidly closing, with the Feb. 1 start date a little over three weeks away.
McGarvie said WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman was meeting with members of the state health department Thursday to get more information.
“There are so many unanswered questions,” McGarvie said. “We’re trying to make plans, like we have been, but it’s so hard because we just don’t know how you go to phase to phase or when you go to phase to phase. … Hopefully, we’ll get some better information by early next week.”