PORTLAND, Ore — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday announced changes to the state’s outdoor sports guidance, including high school football, amid pressure from parents, coaches and players who want full contact sports to return.
High school football hasn’t been played in Oregon in over a year because football is deemed a high-risk activity. In December, the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) updated the schedule for start dates, with football scheduled to begin in February. An OSAA meeting on Monday did not give families hoping for football's return any answers.
But on Wednesday, Brown announced that starting this week, outdoor contact sports will be allowed with health and safety protocols in place based on the county’s risk level.
"It's a big sigh of relief honestly," West Linn senior Clay Masters said about the news. "It's something we've been pushing for so long to get the official go-ahead. Now that it's finally here, I couldn't be happier. This is what we've wanted all along."
In lower risk and moderate risk counties, practices and games for outdoor contact sports can resume following health and safety guidance yet to be issued by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).
In high risk and extreme risk counties, schools and other sports organizations can opt into resuming outdoor contact sports as long as additional health protocols are in place. The counties that make up the Portland metro area this week improved from extreme to high-risk status.
“In such counties, sports organizations must offer on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19,” said a news release from Brown’s office.
Schools in extreme and high-risk counties that opt into outdoor contact sports must also have at least limited in-person learning, Brown said, with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year.
"The practices are now meaning something," said Steve Coury, Lake Oswego's head coach. "You're gonna get ready to start to play a game. You've got a schedule. You're gonna be out there every day. You've got just the things that make this real, make it somewhat like it used to be, and hopefully school follows and we start getting over this thing."
Schools that do not opt-in will be limited to non-contact sports.
Indoor contact sports are still prohibited statewide due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The OSAA said it will work with the governor's office, OHA and the state department of education to support schools getting students back on the field.
"The lower and moderate risks counties, schools in those counties are able to get going with football contact next week starting on Monday," OSAA executive director Peter Weber said. "There's still some details that we need to try and figure out. The press release was great and again, we're glad to get kids back to even more."
“This has been a difficult year for Oregon’s youth athletes and, as our COVID-19 numbers have dropped, I have been committed to working with our health experts to reevaluate our protocols for sports,” said Brown. “School sports play an important role in fostering students’ mental, emotional, and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families, and their communities.”
Brown also said the OHA will update the exemption for college sports and allow Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA schools to submit plans to resume college athletics.