Arizona high school football players and coaches can breathe a little easier this season – literally.
Gone are the bothersome face masks that were required to be worn last season to try to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus that had become a pandemic.
But that doesn’t mean those same coaches and players aren’t holding their collective breath as the new Delta variant of the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate. With just two weeks away from the start of the 2021 season (2A games begin Aug. 20), there is still the possibility that mask mandates could be reinstated if new cases continue to spike.
However, for now there is some good news relative to the health and safety measures that had been a schedule disrupter. New guidelines issued by the Arizona Interscholastic Association just in time for the start of the fall sports season lift the mandatory quarantine requirement for individual contact with the virus.
According to the AIA guidelines that were updated just two days ago, those vaccinated coaches and players who have come in close contact with someone who tests positive will no longer have to isolate from the their team for 14 days, as previously required. However, they must not be experiencing any symptoms of the disease to be able to avoid the isolation.
The 2020 season was decimated by the cancellation of games because a player, or several, on a team who tested positive for COVID-19 would mean that upcoming games(s) would need to be cancelled because that two-week quarantine was required under the old guidelines.
Some teams were hit with consecutive weeks of cancelled games, which meant an abbreviated season and an inability for those teams to maintain any kind of consistency in their play. As it was, the season had been shortened to just eight weeks since the virus caused the season to get off to a late Oct. 1 start.
Last season was so difficult because vaccines weren’t available at that time.
The AIA is following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which updated its guidelines for fully-vaccinated people on July 16. “Fully-vaccinated” people are defined as those who are at least two weeks from the second dose in a two-dose series, and at least two weeks removed from a single-dose vaccine.
Getting to the start of the 2021 season without major complications is almost accomplished. Now the mission is to hold off the spread of the virus long enough to get through a full 10-week schedule.
The AIA won’t be requiring proof of vaccination. AIA Executive Director David Hines says they will be using the honor system.
That puts the success of the season squarely in the laps of the players.