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For anyone who still trusts the governor, explain the science in that to me, please

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Lon AustinEnough is enough.

For months now, we have been told that we have to socially distance, wear masks, and otherwise adjust our lifestyles to protect us from COVID-19.

We have been assured that the governor's office is using the best science available to make all decisions.

Well, I'm here to say that is bunk.

Let me explain. According to the governor's office, it is OK for Oregon and Oregon State to play their current basketball season. However, at the same time, the NAIA schools in Oregon, who moved fall sports to the spring in order to be able to have a season, are not being allowed to have volleyball practice.

For anyone who still trusts the governor, explain the science in that to me, please. It is OK for NCAA Division I schools to play a full-contact sport, but it is not OK for NAIA schools to conduct a volleyball practice.

Adding to the absurdity of the whole situation is a new announcement from the governor's office made early last week. That announcement allowed for football to finally move ahead in the state of Oregon. Teams that reside in low or medium risk counties can move toward contact in practice. Meanwhile, schools in high or extreme risk counties have also been cleared to move ahead, sort of.

As of Monday, Feb. 15, any school that is having face-to-face learning, and is in a risk category of medium or low, may start wearing helmets for practice. Later in the week, they may begin contact. Meanwhile, schools in counties with higher risk categories may also resume contact, if they opt in.

The Oregon School Activities Association made that announcement early last week. Meanwhile, the governor's office and the Oregon Health Authority did not bother to tell schools what they would have to do in order to opt in until sometime Friday afternoon. Up to then, no one knew what opt in meant, so for three days, football teams in high and extreme risk counties had to wait to see what they would have to do in order to play.

So, anyway, schools that opt in may now participate in football.

Now is where the whole thing gets crazy.

The remainder of high school fall sports do not officially start practice until Monday, Feb. 22. At that point, soccer and cross country may resume practice with no restrictions. However, volleyball can only begin practice if the county is no longer in the extreme risk category. Of course, the announcement about a county changing risk categories will not be made until Tuesday, Feb. 23, and no change in risk category will actually take place until Friday, Feb. 26. That means that Crook and Jefferson counties will not be allowed to begin normal volleyball practices until the 26th at the earliest.

Keep in mind that under the format that the OSAA was forced to adopt in order to comply with the governor's previous executive orders, teams will only have a six-week competitive season. Teams may not participate in any contests prior to having five practices, so that means that the six-week season is now down to five or fewer for any volleyball teams in extreme risk counties.

That might even make sense if you believe the explanations coming from the governor's office regarding risk levels. But wait, there's more.

At Crook County, the volleyball program is attempting to get ready for the season while still complying with the governor's edicts. Currently, that means that gyms may have no more than six people in them at a time. So, the volleyball team is practicing a couple of days a week, with six players in the small gym and six players in the large gym for 45 minutes, then those players leave, and another group of players come in for a second practice. Of course, those players may not be close to each other, so even though kids are practicing, they can't hit against a blocker, they can't scrimmage, they can't run most drills — but they are still out there, waiting for an opportunity to salvage at least part of their season.

At the same time that gyms are so restricted, Bi-Mart in Prineville — and I'm not picking on Bi-Mart, it just happens that I saw their sign — is limited to a maximum capacity of 382 people, due to the risk of COVID.

So, seriously, are the governor and the Oregon Health Authority really trying to claim that it is safe for 382 people to be in one building, but no more than six in another building of approximately the same size?

If you still think the governor's orders might make sense, keep in mind that those same student athletes who are only allowed in the gym in groups of six or fewer are allowed on buses that are filled to capacity each day, and are allowed to attend class in classrooms considerably smaller than the gym, but with far more people. So, it's safe to go to the store, it's safe to ride a school bus, it's safe to attend school, it's safe to play football, but somehow, it's not safe to practice volleyball? Give me a break.

If you still aren't convinced, recent studies are clear that high school-aged individuals are at low risk of either contracting the virus, or of getting very sick if they do get it. Studies from the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, college football, college basketball as well as other states who have allowed high school athletics to continue all year, show no evidence of players contracting COVID either from practice or from games, rather any players who have gotten the virus have been identified as having contracted it through social contact.

In other words, there is no evidence that athletics spreads the virus.

And, in another head scratcher, this week restaurants in high and extreme risk counties have been allowed to open to sell lottery tickets, but they are still unable to have sit down patrons to eat – yeah, that's all about science. So, do you seriously still believe that the governor's decisions are being made based on the best available science?

I understand the reluctance to allow spectators into games, and I believe that parents are willing to forego watching their children play, so that they may be allowed to play at all. I understand that some sacrifices may be necessary in order to protect the most vulnerable in society. Although I strongly disagreed with the decision, I even understood delaying high school sports while we struggled to get the virus under control.

However, the science is clear. Athletics can be done safely, and it is being done safely all over the country, including by major universities in Oregon. So, it's time for the governor to quit hiding behind "science" and do the right thing. It is time that the governor stops playing games with high school and college sports. Athletics are good for the mental health of the participants. High school athletes are at low risk, and the coaches are willing and eager to accept the risk in order to provide opportunities for students. So, to say that it's safe to attend school, it's safe to play football, but somehow it is a health risk to play volleyball, that isn't science, that's discrimination.

So, enough is enough. Do the right thing. Quit denying our kids opportunities under the guise of science. Step away, and let them play. After all, if it is truly about science, then the science says that sports are safe.


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