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Face coverings to be required when youth sports resume in January

The Minnesota Department of Health released updated guidance for high school and organized youth sports on Monday.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Face coverings will be required for most youth sports when winter activities are allowed to resume in the state of Minnesota in January.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released updated guidance on its website on Monday with its recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Under an executive order issued by Gov. Tim Walz, practices can resume for high school and organized youth sports starting Jan. 4, while games and scrimmages can resume starting Jan. 14.

The guidance states that "face coverings must be worn by all persons at all times, including practices and, when allowed, games" with certain exceptions, based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the Minnesota State High School League, it will continue to work directly with the MDH and the Minnesota Department of Education to ensure a safe plan for student-athletes when sports resume.  

“These experiences are so important to students and they have been anxiously waiting to get these winter seasons started,” MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens said in a statement. “By implementing these safety protocols recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and required by the Minnesota Department of Health, we have the best chance to provide safe seasons with reduced interruptions and also plan for full postseason experiences.”    

The exceptions for the face covering guidance include wrestling (where masks could become a choking or visual hazard), certain gymnastics and cheerleading routines (where face coverings could get caught on objects), and swimming and diving. Athletes must wear face coverings at all other times.

The guidance also states that athletes should maintain six feet of physical distancing when they're on the bench or sidelines and not actively playing.

Practices will be limited to "pods" with a maximum of 25 participants. Spectators are not allowed at practices, except when a parent or guardian is necessary due to age, disability or medical condition.

Once games resume on Jan. 14, spectators will be limited based on the size of the venue. Concessions and entertainment are not allowed.

The MDH guidance also discourages carpooling or the use of locker room and shower facilities. Outdoor practices are recommended whenever possible.

"The decision to resume sports does not mean engaging in sports is without risk," the guidance states. "Any time you gather with other people, you are putting yourself and others at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. COVID-19 can lead to serious medical conditions and even death for people of all ages. We cannot predict who will become severely ill, although we know that older people and people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk. We do not yet know what the long-term effects of COVID-19 are; even people with mild cases may experience long-term complications. People with symptoms and without symptoms can spread COVID-19. The masking, distancing, and other guidance provided here is intended to reduce the risk of transmission, but does not eliminate it."

Minnesota Hockey executive director Glen Andresen told KARE 11's Dave Schwartz that his organization is waiting on some clarification on which types of face coverings will be acceptable for their sport, but the group is also hopeful that some restrictions could be dialed back if things go well.

The updated guidance does not apply to professional or collegiate sports activities.

The full guidance document can be found on the MDH website.

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