Since Dec. 18, more fans have been allowed at area and state high school sporting events according to updated guidelines issued by the Utah High School Activities Association and the Utah School Superintendents Association.
The new guidelines state that in counties that are classified by the state health department as having high or moderate transmission of COVID-19, schools can allow 25% capacity for winter sports. Weber, Davis, Box Elder and Morgan counties are classified as having high transmission.
School districts can choose to follow the new guidelines if they so wish. Weber, Ogden and Davis districts OK’d the changes for their schools.
Schools in Region 1 and Region 5 have adopted the new guidelines as of this week, while Region 10 (Ben Lomond and Ogden) adopted the new guidelines as soon as they were released.
Previous guidelines allowed for event attendance by parents of participants only, and up to two tickets per participant.
This is taking place as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rapidly rising in Utah again as part of an expected post-holiday surge.
As of Friday’s state health department update, 543 patients were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 in Utah, and another 67 hospitalized with suspected COVID-19. The 543 figure is an increase from last Friday’s total of 485.
UHSAA assistant director Jon Oglesby stated in an email that “Return to Play” guidelines were changed after additional feedback from the state health department to reflect policy changes in the COVID-19 school manual, along with some feedback from the USSA.
The COVID-19 school manual, however, states that attendance should only be limited to families of participants. Some of the inherent risk is mitigated by the state’s “Test to Play” protocol that mandates rapid antigen testing every 14 days for high school sports participants.
Some risk is also mitigated by a relatively low COVID-19 positivity rate in the state’s high school sports sphere.
During a state health department press briefing on Dec. 17, Utah Department of Health interim executive director Richard Saunders said that 12,000 tests conducted as of that date in the Test to Play protocol had returned a positive rate of 1.6%.
And, Gov. Spencer Cox announced Friday that school teachers will start being offered the COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week.
According to an email sent to principals of Region 1 schools, ticketing is being expanded from two tickets per participant to four tickets, though some schools such as Weber High and Layton High can’t accommodate four tickets per participant (for both the home and visiting teams) while also staying under the 25% threshold.
Others, such as Roy High, have larger gyms and won’t come close to the 25% mark even with the four ticket-per-participant allocation.
In the updated UHSAA guidelines, participants are defined as players, support group members and coaches. The guidelines have no restrictions on who the four tickets go to, meaning they don’t have to go exclusively to parents of participants anymore.
Defined student sections are still not allowed, though that doesn’t mean students are barred from attending.
According to Ben Lomond athletic director Dirk Barber, the school is letting its student body officers attend the games, but there’s no organized student section.
ARIZONA CANCELS WINTER SPORTS
On Friday, the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted to cancel the winter high school sports season citing another alarming surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Winter sports were initially scheduled to start on Jan. 18, but the AIA’s board voted 5-4 on Friday to cancel the season after a long meeting with its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, according to multiple Arizona news outlets.
“Unfortunately, it is expected that the state will see a continued rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations for some time. As medical professionals, we cannot in good conscience recommend that students engage in a winter season under the current conditions,” said SMAC Committee Chair Dr. Kristina Wilson in a press release statement, according to the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff.