Due to the rise in COVID-19 cases due to the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, the state’s Department of Public Health is halting guidance that would have allowed fully vaccinated athletes, coaches and officials in athletic competitions to stop wearing masks as of Thursday, Dec. 23.
DPH issued updated guidance Wednesday night that extends the current rules that athletic competitions have been playing under in Connecticut since the winter athletic season began in December.
“Although a previous assessment was made by DPH that would have allowed the choice for fully vaccinated participants to unmask during sports competitions, the rapid rise in COVID-19 community case rates and the emergence of this more contagious variant has forced us to reconsider that assessment. Guidance that has been in place for winter sports throughout this season will remain in place,” said Manisha Juthani, Connecticut’s Public Health Commissioner in a statement on Wednesday.
“In line with our neighboring states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, DPH is advising that all participants continuously wear a mask over the nose and mouth during all indoor athletic activities to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our state and region,” Juthani said.
Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), said in a statement that the CIAC is modifying their mask rules to conform with the updated guidance from DPH until further notice.
“The CIAC’s COVID-19 mitigating strategies and its rules and regulations maintain a safe environment for interscholastic athletic competition and provide the best opportunity to complete an entire winter sports season,” Lungarini said. “Please be reminded that the CIAC Board of Control has the authority and duty to enforce its rules and regulations.”
Wrestlers must wear masks at all times except when actively wrestling in practice or an actual match. These have been the rules throughout this entire season. Guidance issued by the CIAC in November would have allowed fully vaccinated officials and coaches to stop wearing a mask if they chose. That guidance has now been updated.
Officials, coaches and spectators are required to be wearing masks at all times while inside buildings, according to CIAC guidance. The CIAC is leaving decisions on the size of crowds in the buildings up to individual school districts. Some districts, such as Bristol, are restricting the number of fans or parents in the building.
Basketball and hockey players need to continue wearing masks in practice and games as they have been throughout the pandemic. They played and practiced in masks last year and have done the same this year.
Swimmers must wear masks during activities outside of the water. Track and field athletes can temporarily remove masks for active jumps or throws. Masks are required for the runners – even in competition.
“Today’s modification will keep kids safely engaged in interscholastic and youth athletics,” Lungarini said. “Any lack of adherence to COVID-19 mitigation strategies increases the potential of negatively impacting teams and potentially threatens the ability to complete a sports season.”
Wrestling regulations regarding masks are actually stricter in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. According to Charles Gaffney, the long-time coach in Coventry, R.I., athletes in the Ocean State and Bay State are required to wear masks during practice and actual meets.
The CIAC guidance urges athletes to get vaccinated.
Athletes who are vaccinated and not showing any signs of COVID-19 symptoms can return to their athletic teams quicker than non-vaccinated athletes who have contact with a person who has contracted COVID-19. Specific language is in the DPH guidance.
The DPH is recommending that athletes who are not vaccinated should not participate in out of state games.
DPH guidance said that athletic league, club, and team organizers are responsible for ensuring that participants (including spectators) comply with mask wearing guidelines at all times.
Athletic program administrators should also be aware of any local mandates regulating the use of masks inside certain facilities within individual towns or jurisdictions, advise participants of existing regulations, and enforce compliance with local rules during their athletic events.