SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown abruptly reversed direction on Wednesday, allowing for outdoor contact sports at the high school and college level to resume with precautions in place.
“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 Governor 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's office said that outdoor contact sports will be allowed to resume this week "with health and safety protocols in place." The extent of those protocols hinges on each county's risk level as assigned by the state.
In Lower Risk and Moderate Risk counties, practices and games for outdoor contact sports — including high school football — can resume following forthcoming health and safety guidance from the Oregon Health Authority.
In High and Extreme Risk counties, schools and other sports organizations will be allowed to "opt-in" for resuming outdoor sports with stricter measures. In those counties — including Jackson, Josephine, and Klamath — teams must offer on-site rapid testing for people with symptoms, gather contact information for any required contact tracing, and agree to a waiver acknowledging the health and safety risks "and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19."
Schools in those higher-risk counties must also have at least limited in-person learning ongoing "with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year," and must also be in compliance with the state's guidance for COVID-19 testing.
The Medford School Board penned a letter to Brown and state officials last week, urging them to allow for athletics and other extracurricular activities to resume — pointing to the number of other states that have loosened restrictions.
“To all of Oregon’s high school athletes: I am asking you now to be leaders in your communities. We’ve given you the chance to play, but with that opportunity comes great responsibility," Brown said. "If COVID-19 numbers spike, we may have to shut down contact sports again. When you are off the field, set the example for your peers: wear a mask, maintain physical distance, and avoid social gatherings."
OHA is also updating its exemptions for college sports, allowing the state, allowing Division 2, Division 3, and NAIA schools to submit health and safety plans to resume college athletics. Those teams will have to meet the same standards currently in place for Division 1 programs.
“It is not lost on me that this decision today will allow high school football to resume, when too many high school classrooms across Oregon remain empty," Brown continued. "To all the parents of student athletes and coaches who have called and emailed me in the last year asking for school sports to resume, I am challenging you now to devote your energy to making sure in-person academics can resume for your kids, too. If our school gyms, fields, and weight rooms are to reopen, we owe it to Oregon’s children to make sure our classrooms, libraries, and science labs fully reopen as well.”
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.