RENTON - The Governor’s Office and state Department of Health have issued new guidance for returning to education-based sports and activities.

The new guidelines were issued last week and rely on statistical benchmarks of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in a given county and the percentage of positive tests.

Washington Interscholastic Activities used the health department’s guidance to develop new general and sport-specific return-to-play guidelines, which replace those previously tied to phasing in the state’s Safe Start Plan.

WIAA said the Governor’s Office has informed the association that the guidelines must be followed and neither schools nor community sports programs have the authority to implement more lenient policies.

“These revised guidelines give greater flexibility to school administrators to offer education-based athletics and activities and meet the demand of their students and communities,” said WIAA. “The WIAA Executive Board and staff are pleased with the work that has been done to allow students to be more involved with their schools, as participation in the school setting provides safer and more equitable opportunities for students, especially during this time.”

WIAA staff will continue to work with decision-makers to evaluate participation in sports deemed high-risk by reviewing all data and documentation available in hopes of qualifying them as moderate risk.

County benchmarks will be used to determine which sports or activities are recommended to take place, based on COVID-19 activity in the county. The benchmarks mirror those issued by the Department of Health to aid schools in their decision-making process for in-person and remote learning.

According to the guidance, three tiers indicate low, moderate or high risk, and allow for varying levels of participation:

-High, greater than 75 cases per 100,000 population for 14 days or greater than 5 percent positive tests.

Team practices and/or training can resume for low, medium and high-risk sports if players are limited to groups of six in separate parts of the field/court and separated by a buffer zone. Brief, close contact is permitted.

It is preferable for the groups of six to be stable over time. Attendance rosters should include group contact information. Each league, organization or club must publish and follow a “return to play” safety plan.

Any practice or training activities that can be done outdoors should be done outdoors.

Scrimmage, intra-team competitions, and league games or competition are allowed for low-risk sports, but are discouraged if the school is not conducting some in-person learning.

No tournaments are allowed.

No spectators are allowed except for one parent/guardian/caregiver for each student participant in uniform. Spectators must maintain a physical distance of at least six feet between each person.

-Moderate, 25-75 cases per 100,000 population per 14-day period and less than 5 percent positive cases.

Scrimmage, intra-team competitions and league games are allowed for low -and moderate-risk sporting activities. Scrimmage and intra-team competitions are allowed for high-risk sporting activities.

No tournaments are allowed.

No spectators are allowed except for one adult parent/guardian/caregiver for each student-participant in uniform. Spectators must maintain physical distance of at least six feet between each person.

-Low, fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 population per 14-day period and less than 5 percent positive tests

Scrimmage, intra-team competitions and league games are allowed for low-, moderate- and high-risk sporting activities.

Tournaments are allowed.

Spectators to follow gathering size limit of the Safe Start Plan.

A prohibition on tournaments for sporting activities does not include post-season, playoff, regional or state championship competitions sanctioned by a statewide interscholastic activities administrative and rule-making body that oversees competition in all counties in the state, according to the regulations.

Each WIAA sport is classified into low-, moderate- and high-risk categories:

Low risk – Cross country, golf, sideline/no-contact cheerleading and dance, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field.

Moderate risk – Baseball, bowling, gymnastics, soccer, softball, volleyball.

High risk – Basketball, cheerleading with contact, dance with contact, football, wrestling.

Complete guidelines and changes are available at wiaa.com/covid.

WIAA earlier announced a four-season plan for school sports, but scrapped Season 1 because of high COVID-19 numbers statewide.

Traditional winter sports – basketball, bowling, boys’ swimming and diving, gymnastics, competitive cheerleading and wrestling – would be the first to start during WIAA Season 2, with the expectation to begin in late December or early January. Tentative Season 2 dates are Jan. 4 to March 7.

Traditional fall sports of girls’ soccer, 1B/2B boys’ soccer (western Washington), volleyball, football, cross country and slowpitch softball and girls’ swimming and diving are slated for early spring 2021 as part of WIAA Season 3. Tentative Season 3 dates are March 8 to May 2.

Traditional spring sports would occupy WIAA Season 4, tentatively set for May 3 to June 27.

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