Athletes and spectators at Maine high school sporting events have been required to wear face coverings at all times during outdoor events this spring.

But that could change soon, in light of a significant policy change by the Mills’ administration on Tuesday.

“When you’re outside in public settings you are not required to wear a mask,” said Jeanne Lambrew, the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, during Tuesday’s media briefing.

The Maine Principals’ Association aligns its policies with the state’s Community Sports Guidelines, requiring masks be worn at all times for student-athletes, coaches and fans at games and practices.

Mike Bisson, the MPA’s assistant executive director, said his agency is still waiting for clarification from the state before revising any rules.

Lambrew said the state’s COVID-19 prevention checklists, including the Community Sports Guidelines, will be updated to reflect the revocation of the outdoor mask mandate.

“That does include, for example, road races and other outdoor sports,” Lambrew said. “Typically, the Maine Principals’ Association works in parallel with the Community Sports Guidelines, so I would expect they would be looking at this adjusted guidance.”

Bisson said several schools had contacted the MPA on Tuesday afternoon to inquire if masks are still mandatory. For now, at least, they are.

“We’ve already had ADs calling and saying ‘Hey, I have a game today, what do I do?'” he said. “Our guidelines haven’t changed. Until they do, the status quo is still in effect.”

Athletic directors are anxiously waiting to learn what changes may be in store.

Skowhegan’s Lily Wright returns a shot from Waterville’s Sarah McNeil during a match Tuesday at the North Street Courts in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans

“I do expect maybe something in the next day or two, either telling us we have to keep doing what we’re doing, or there will be some modifications,” said Maranacook AD Brant Remington. “I’m happy that that news came out, because there’s hope that maybe some of these outdoor masks requirements can be lifted. My fingers are crossed.”

In the short term, masks will continue to be worn, said Tim Spear, the athletic director at Gorham High.

“Our rules have not changed. If you want to come to a Gorham sporting event you will be wearing a mask. Period. Because our sport guidelines are very clear. Until we can revise that and change that our rules will not change,” Spear said.

Spear and South Portland AD Todd Livingston said they hope that before the spring season is over players would be able to compete without wearing masks, as was the case for most of the fall season in Maine.

“I think we would have to wear them in team areas and on the benches like we did in the fall,” Livingston said. “You didn’t have to wear them when playing but you did on the bench and coaches had to wear them.”

Asked which sport’s athletes would benefit most from not having to wear masks, Livingston said, “Well, I think all sports would benefit from not having to wear them. Think about the poor track athletes, the distance runners, the sprinters. It’s hard to breathe.”

Even before Tuesday’s announcement, there had been a push to alter the mask mandate.

Mt. Ararat junior Grady Satterfield, a distance runner on the track and field team, wrote a letter to the state asking for masks to be voluntary rather than mandatory for competing athletes. Satterfield worked with senior teammate Jace Hollenbach on the letter, got signatures from nine other runners, including Maine Gatorade Cross Country Runners of the Year Sofie Matson and Ben Greene of Falmouth.

The letter was supported by state Rep. Seth Berry, whose son, Lisandro Berry-Gaviria, starred at Mt. Ararat before competing for Notre Dame.

“We kind of wanted to have the same conditions that we had with cross country,” Satterfield said Tuesday, “which was no masks (while running) and just being able to do our best without having something kind of preventing us from going 100 percent.”

Mt. Ararat had its first meet on Wednesday, and Satterfield said the masks had a significant impact on performance.

Erskine’s Sierra LaCroix, left, scrambles for the ball with Nokomis-MCI’s Gigi Ouellette during an April 19 game in South China. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“It’s been pretty difficult,” he said. “(With) a lack of oxygen, your body can’t break down the lactic acid as fast. … Your cadence slows down, your body just can’t go 100 percent.”

Like high school sports, competitors in Maine road races are required to wear masks. Tuesday’s announcement could change that, said Bob Dunfey, race director of the Maine Marathon, and open the door to more races and runners.

“What I see likely happening is – based on this interpretation – people will be allowed to run without masks, unless they want to run with one, or the person wants to raise one up when they come close to someone,” Dunfey said, adding that removing the outdoor mask mandate “will facilitate these events to happen.”

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