A state order requiring high school and youth athletes to wear masks while practicing and competing is not going over well with a group of Minnesota state legislators and supporters of the Let Them Play MN Facebook group.
A Jan. 6 letter signed by 30 members of the Minnesota House of Representatives to Gov. Tim Walz urged that the mask requirement be dropped. Citing guidance from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control, they said wearing a mask while participating poses "a potential health risk to participants and may cause more harm than the intended good.''
The signers, including Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, said many parents and coaches have told them the mandate is "unworkable and outright harmful to their players. Many students with asthma or other conditions, who otherwise would have participated in sports, will no longer be able to do so.''
As high school and youth sports began practice on Monday, many parents took to social media to make similar claims. Let Them Play MN, which has been vocal in support of getting kids back to playing sports, has said it plans to take legal action to fight what it calls Walz's "absurd decision to harm youth athletes by requiring masks during sports.''
During a Minnesota State High School League virtual meeting with school officials Thursday, executive director Erich Martens said the league "did not ask for masks to be worn during competition time periods." He told a record 401 interested listeners for the weekly update, "we wanted to do what the Minnesota Department of Health felt was necessary to get started."
Nicholas Kimball, communications director for the state's COVID-19 response, said in a statement, "We all share the same concern — that is, how to keep kids, coaches, and officials as safe as possible during practices and games. The Minnesota sports associations were involved in the decision to implement the mask policy. As with any situation, if someone is having difficulty while wearing a mask, they should take it off."
The mask requirement came after Walz put youth sports on hold in November amid a spike in COVID-19 cases fueled by community transmission of the virus.
High school games will resume starting Jan. 14. Seasons will be reduced with fewer games but the goal of ending them with championships, unlike fall sports, has league officials in discussions with traditional state tournament venues such as Xcel Energy Center, Target Center and the University of Minnesota.
No contracts have been signed, said Bob Madison, league associate director.
The league previously approved dates for potential state tournaments. That includes possible scenarios of basketball ending the week of March 29 and hockey ending the week of April 5. With a nod to KSTC-45, the league's television broadcast partner, Madison said staggering those two sports' state tournaments is important.
Within each sport, however, the possibility exists of tournaments for boys and girls sharing the same week.
"We are nowhere near finalizing plans," Madison said Thursday. "The ink is barely dry on the NHL schedule and we're still waiting on the NBA schedule to be made public."
Indoor venues such as gyms and arenas must limit capacity to 25%, with a maximum of up to 150 people, the governor announced as part of loosening several restrictions he ordered to counter the pandemic.
High school bands and halftime performers are prohibited during the winter season. A limit of two spectators per participant for competitions is recommended, according to information shared at the league's meeting.
Concession stands for food and beverage sales are not encouraged. But they are allowed if they follow appropriate guidance, eliminate gatherings and have a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, school officials were told at the meeting.