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Fans brace for masks, social distancing under Friday night lights

As the pandemic continues, it’s not only players and coaches who will be affected when it comes to the season. Fans should be prepared to wear masks to high school football and volleyball games at least through Aug. 31.

Gov. Kay Ivey issued the mask mandate in the middle of July and then extended the mandate through the end of August, which covers the return of students to school and the opening of fall sports seasons.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association released an Alabama Department of Public Health declaration this week pertaining to the Return to Play for high school sports.

The ADPH notes that a memo issued last Thursday by the AHSAA says spectators will be allowed to attend football games and other athletic events, but attendance likely will be significantly reduced. Under the state’s current Safer at Home public health order:

“Players, coaches, officials and spectators may not congregate within 6 feet of a person from another household except to the extent necessary, and only to the extent necessary, for players, coaches and officials to directly participate in the athletic activity.”

The 6-foot distancing rule for spectators likely will significantly reduce attendance at most football stadiums and at many other sports venues.

A spectator must wear a mask or other facial covering that covers the nose and mouth at all times while within 6 feet of a person from another household.

Limited exceptions are allowed, such as for children who have not yet entered second grade and for people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a facial covering.

“We just ask the fans at all of our schools to help us give these kids a chance to have a full, normal season,” said Franklin County Superintendent Greg Hamilton. “Our coaches and players have been working all summer for this chance, and they have done a great job of following all protocols. If we are going to have a normal season, it is going to take everyone’s cooperation.”

Hamilton pointed to the way people complied with social distancing and other restrictions during the county’s graduations ceremonies and praised the community’s adherence during those large gatherings, encouraging a similar compliance as the season begins. “I think our fans care enough about high school sports and these kids to do everything possible to see them play.”

Russellville Superintendent Heath Grimes echoed the theme of cooperation.

“I think the memo is consistent with what we have been stressing at school,” said Grimes. “If you want to have a football or volleyball season, these are the things that are going to have to be done.”

Grimes said RHS coaches “have done a very good job of getting us to this point.”

“We have had over 250 athletes practicing all summer and only three positive cases,” Grimes said. “That speaks a lot to the job our coaches have done educating our students, following the social distancing and sanitizing equipment. If we continue to do our part, I like our chances.”

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris noted the AHSAA – in its memo Thursday – said best practices guidance the association issued last month “was created to mitigate – not eliminate – the risk of COVID-19.”

The memo says schools are “strongly encouraged to establish and follow policies for limiting event attendance in order to comply” with the current public health order and to require fans to wear facial coverings while entering and exiting the gates, while in the stands and elsewhere.

Harris stressed that the current public health order applies to schools and school-related events.

In addition, all people with symptoms or with known exposure to a COVID-19 positive case must quarantine for at least 14 days. People who are awaiting test results for COVID-19 should also remain at home until they receive results and guidance from their physician, healthcare provider or the health department.

According to the current guidance, having a negative test does not eliminate the requirement for home quarantine when people are close contacts to a COVID-19 positive case or remain symptomatic without another diagnosis.