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If safety is our first priority, the governor's office and OHA need to do better for high school sports.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Wade EvansonWhat are we doing?

For the past year, I've found myself asking that question about much of what has transpired since the onset of the pandemic.

Early, there was little information about what we were up against and how to best go about protecting ourselves from a virus of which we knew little.

How is it spread? Who is most susceptible and to what extent? Can you get it more than once? And does a mask help?

We had no tests for detecting the virus, no treatments and no vaccines. With that came obvious concern over what was truly an unknown quantity.

As a result, we suspended and later postponed sporting events, and since — at least here in Oregon — dipped a toe at most into the water before, nearly two months ago, diving back into athletics at the high school level.

And I got it, for the most part. After all, erring on the side of caution was prudent early on, and protection by means of sacrifice was simply part of the one game we were all forced to play.

But since then, we've discovered means of treatment, engineered a vaccine, and have more than a year's worth of data to lean on regarding what we can and can't do relatively safely.

So, with that in mind, I'm again forced to ask the following question as it pertains to sports here in Oregon: What are we doing?

Last week, Summit High School's Maggie Williams collapsed at the finish line of what would turn out to be a school-record-setting performance in the 800 meters. It was "complete oxygen debt," her coach said on "The Bald-Faced Truth" radio program April 23, and nothing he'd seen in over 30 years of coaching track and field.

Williams is seemingly fine, but prior to the incident and since it occurred April 22, coaches, parents and people like me have and continue to question the thoughtfulness — or lack thereof — of mask mandates for outdoor, non-contact student athletics.

According to "The Bald-Faced Truth" host John Canzano, Oregon is the only state in the country requiring track athletes to wear masks during competition. Add that to the fact that we were one of the last eight states in the country to get sports off the ground — and didn't start practicing and competing until March, despite six months' worth of evidence of working models for a return to play — and one can't help but question the level of effort this state has made, and continues to make, to do what's best for the kids playing the games.

On Monday, April 26, Gov. Kate Brown's office made an about-face and revised current guidance on the use of masks during outdoor competition, allowing competitors to take off face coverings when competing in non-contact outdoor sports. They said they're doing so based on evolving science and medical evidence, which they "regularly review."

Rubbish.

They're doing so because a teenage girl competitor's near-disastrous circumstance scared the you-know-what out of them, and the backlash since spurred them to act.

But what took so long? If you're "regularly reviewing" evolving science, one would've thought that someone at the OHA would've seen the same things I found in 10 minutes with a remedial Google search: information from the World Health Organization, the Mayo Clinic and the University of Maryland Medical System that clearly states that while it's generally safe to exercise in masks, it may be unnecessary in socially distant settings and/or cause breathing problems during high-intensity exercises.

"Wearing a mask while exercising can impede your overall performance," the University of Maryland states. "Even the most breathable masks decrease airflow, making it slightly harder to breathe. ... Even if you are fit, you may get winded more easily."

In other words, wearing a mask is essentially harmless, even during exercise. But a mask worn during intense physical exertion — like, for instance during a competitive contest — could potentially cause a problem for someone.

Like Maggie Williams.

I get it. Football is a physical sport that by definition requires close contact, so if you'd like to argue a mask during competition, I'll listen.

Wrestling? OK.

Soccer? Maybe.

But track and field? Baseball? Softball? Golf? Tennis? All sports played outside with little to no direct and/or close contact with your competition. Why were we treating them the same way?

This state has gotten lazy — plain and simple.

If there's one thing we've learned over the past year of this pandemic, it's that this virus does not treat us all the same. Young or old, healthy or less so, male or female, or quite simply you or I, the COVID experience has been or could be entirely different. Some sadly die, others get sick, many feel next to nothing.

But while the virus clearly discriminates, we continue to treat prevention in a very indiscriminate fashion.

Everything doesn't need to operate under the same rules and regulations. You want football and basketball players to wear a mask? We can talk. But when it comes to non-contact, outdoor activities like track, golf and tennis, I need this state to listen — and it appears they finally have, if only because Maggie Williams already paid the price.


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