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Let's dump the final roadblocks that hamper our high school athletes' lives.

PMG FILE PHOTO - While most Oregon high school athletes already compete without face masks, the state is hinting that it may lift all mask mandates by the end of March.Just over a year ago, I wrote an opinion piece for Pamplin Media Group that began this way —

Dear Kate Brown: It's time to get out of the way.

Get out of the way of the businesses you've crushed with COVID-19 lockdowns over the past 10 months.

Get out of the way of the students who've seen their education deteriorate through almost a year of distance learning.

Get out of the way of the churches you've shuttered for ages, a choice that's diminished the spiritual lives of so many of our state's citizens.

And please — please — get out of the way of the tens of thousands of Oregon high school athletes who have seen their dreams crushed and their college chances diminished by lockdowns designed to protect them from a virus that has — according to the Oregon Health Authority website — killed 0% of Oregon residents ages 0-19.

Miles VanceYou can read the full piece here.

Thirteen months later — that column appeared on Jan. 13, 2021 — things are different, and in many ways, better.

Those businesses that survived the worst of the pandemic are open, and most are almost completely open.

Most schools have returned to in-person learning most of the time, though there have been some notable exceptions and speedbumps along the way.

Most churches have returned, at least intermittently, to worshipping in person. And high school sports — so much a staple in so many people's lives — have at least approached normalcy during the 2021-22 school year.

Beyond that, 75% of all Oregonians have been completely vaccinated, and many, many more have caught and recovered from COVID and therefore carry natural immunity.

So, let's keep the momentum going and again ask that our state government get out of the way and eliminate the remaining mask mandates, vaccine mandates, social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions.

And please, please let our high school athletes play without masks — until now, it's been a school-by-school decision — and go to school without masks, and open the doors to their events for fans, classmates, parents etc.

Even now, with Oregon on the verge of ending its mask mandates, the Three Rivers League announced that fans would not be allowed to attend the TRL district swim meet on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11-12, at Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center in Beaverton.

From a high of almost 11,000 cases per day at the peak of Oregon's Omicron spike, we have cut that rate by almost 60%, with hospitalizations now down below 100 per day.

Besides the drop in cases and hospitalizations, there's this — 13 months ago, the Oregon Health Authority website showed that the COVID-19 death rate for Oregonians ages 0-19 was 0%. Today, more than a year later, the death rate for that same age group remains 0%.

With almost a million children living in Oregon and with the pandemic about to complete its second year, the state has reported just five deaths from COVID-19 among residents ages 19 and younger.

That's great news, obviously, but it also confirms what COVID-19 data have shown for a very long time — kids can absolutely catch the virus, but it's very rare that they are greatly harmed by it.

Along with recent news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that cloth masks are ineffective, and further information showing that masking students in school does more harm than good, can we please, finally, make them go away in Oregon?

If that doesn't convince you, let me add one more. Right now, Oregon ranks 50th in the country for rate of infection per million residents and 45th in COVID deaths per million. But two of the other nine states that still require masks — Delaware and California — rank 17th and 18th in infection rate and 32nd and sixth in death rate.

In other words, masks aren't making a positive difference — it's time for them to go.

— Miles Vance is a sports editor at Pamplin Media Group and has covered Oregon high school sports for 33 years.

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