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Multnomah County health officials urge high school volleyball players to wear masks while competing indoors

The county's new guidance exceeds current state mandates for high school athletes, but many schools are answering the call.

GRESHAM, Ore. — Multnomah County health officials recently issued new COVID-19 guidance for schools, and some of it addresses fall sports. The county is asking schools to require volleyball players to wear masks during indoor practice and while they compete in games. 

That's more than the state mandates require right now, but many schools, including those in the Gresham-Barlow School District, are answering the call.

At Monday night’s Gresham volleyball game against Centennial High School, both teams wore masks. Before the game, about a dozen people staged a protest outside Gresham High School in opposition to the new mandate.

“Of course I'd like to see the masks go away completely, but if we could just get them off of [students] while they're playing their sport, I would consider that a win,” said Sherice Edmonds, whose daughter plays volleyball for Gresham.

Over the weekend, Gresham played at a tournament in Corvallis. Edmonds said Gresham was the only team wearing masks on the court, putting them at a disadvantage.

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“Athletes should not be wearing masks when they're performing at a higher level athletically and using more oxygen than other people,” said Edmonds. “I feel like they should not be deprived of getting to breathe freely.”

Public Health Director for Multnomah County, Jessica Guernsey, said given the rapid spread of the delta variant, it makes sense that athletes competing indoors should wear masks during practice and competition.

“This is based on our experience with COVID-19 and contact tracing and case investigation in schools,” said Guernsey. “Sports is an area where there are a lot of interactions, close contact. It makes sense when you're indoors, it's higher risk.”

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Other schools’ volleyball teams are also following that guidance including Parkrose, Jesuit and all Portland Public Schools. Right now, Reynolds High School does not require vaccinated players to wear masks while they're competing, but the school's athletic director tells KGW that may change. It's all still frustrating for parents Edmonds.

“Because this is America and this is the land of the free,” said Edmonds. “You should get to choose what you want to do.”

To that end, Guernsey believes the county’s new guidance will help protect those who don’t have the choice to get vaccinated—or who chose not to.

“A vaccine will save your life,” said Guernsey. “A mask will save someone else's.”