Governor Kate Brown announced changes are coming to the Oregon Heath Authority's guidance prohibiting contact sports, and the news could mean that football is coming back to Forest Grove.
The new guidance will require districts in counties in the high or extreme risk category (Washington County enters "High" on Friday) to opt-in to allow contact sports, and follow certain COVID-19 testing and safety protocols.
“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 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.”
Schools that wish to resume outdoor contact sports must also return to at least limited in-person learning.
With the Forest Grove School District's plan to start in-person learning in the form of the "hybrid" model in April, the changes mean that local student athletes could take to the field this spring, pending decisions from the Oregon School Activities Association.
The Forest Grove School District could not immediately be reached for comment to answer if they planned to opt in to contact sports.
"We will be working with the Governor's Office, Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education to clarify the information and to support schools getting students back on the field," the OSAA said in a statement.
The actual new guidance has yet to be released.
Beginning this week, outdoor contact sports will be allowed in counties in the "Lower and Moderate Risk" categories, with COVID-19 protocols in place.
In counties in the "High and Extreme Risk" categories, such as Washington County, schools districts and sports organizations will have to opt-in to play, and must enact addition protocols, including onsite COVID-19 testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, must collect contact information for contact tracing, and obtain waivers noting health and safety risks and a promise to isolate and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.
"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. 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," Brown said in a press release.
“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. 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.”
Noted in the same press release, the Oregon Health Authority will update the exemption for college sports, allowing Division 2, Division 3, and NAIA schools to submit plans to address health and safety to resume college athletics.
"However, all such teams must still meet the same rigorous standards that Oregon’s Division 1 programs have met before they will be permitted to resume full activities––including regular COVID-19 testing, plans for contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, and health and safety protocols for practices and games," the release read.