Maine high school athletes are not required to wear face masks during competition this fall. But that could change if the state’s Community Sports Guidelines are updated before next week’s state cross country championships. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order requiring face masks be worn in public will not immediately apply to high school athletes engaged in competition, according to the Maine Principals’ Association.

But that is likely to change when the state’s Community Sports Guidelines are updated before any possible winter sports season during the coronavirus pandemic – and maybe sooner.

School administrators and coaches were curious on Thursday if athletes would be required to wear masks while competing for the rest of the fall sports season, scheduled to end on Nov. 14.

MPA officials spoke with Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew on Thursday and were told “until our fall sports guidelines get updated, (athletes) would not be required to (wear masks), to continue to participate as we are this fall,” according to MPA Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson.

Bisson said he expects the key guidelines, for both community sports and school-sponsored sports, to be updated “soon.” On Wednesday, the MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee met and acknowledged that it expects all winter sports athletes (except swimmers) to be required to wear masks in competition.

Dr. William Heinz, the chair of the MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee, said fall athletes are currently required to wear masks “when they come off the field and are on the sidelines and that type of stuff. That may change. We’ll have to wait to see what (DHHS) and Department of Education decide.”

Wells High football coach Tim Roche said mask-wearing is already commonplace for some teams. His players routinely keep theirs on during practices and it has been the same for both teams in Wells’ two 7-on-7 touch football games.

“The funny thing is, our kids don’t take them off. They say they’re just used to it,” Roche said. “In both games we’ve played, not a mask came off. And we told them they could take them off.”

The Class A, B, and C state cross country championships are scheduled to be held next Wednesday (boys) and Saturday (girls) at Saxl Park in Bangor. Bisson said it’s possible that the guideline updates could take effect prior to those events.

The cross country championships could also be derailed if several more counties are placed into the “yellow” category of COVID-19 transmission risk on Friday. When a county is in yellow, schools are advised not to hold athletic activities. Currently, Somerset, Washington and Waldo counties are yellow, but the state’s quickly increasing case rate could lead to other counties being shifted to yellow status.

Bisson said holding the state championship would need to be reconsidered “if we lost a number of schools that qualified,” because of a new yellow designation. “I don’t have what that number would be if you see you’ve lost a large percentage of them, then it really isn’t a state championship. We need to see what tomorrow looks like in terms of the coding of the school districts and the counties. Certainly today’s (COVID case) numbers weren’t good.”

The Maine Center For Disease Control and Prevention reported 183 new COVID-19 cases Thursday – the third day in a row Maine reported a record-high daily case total.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe contributed to this story.

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