WIAA has new return-to-play guidelines based on county benchmarks

New return-to-play guidelines tied to Kitsap County benchmarks rather than the governor’s “Safe Start” plan were released by the WIAA Tuesday, with the intent of giving communities greater flexibility in providing athletics.

The WIAA is also allowing out-of-season practices, running from Sept. 28 to Nov. 30, at the discretion of each school district. Thus far, only Bainbridge High School has any athletes practicing. Participants in low-risk sports — cross country, track and field, tennis and golf — have recently started practices. Students have been required to fill out waivers and have their temperature checked before each practice. Masks are worn by coaches all the time and athletes when not directly participating in strenuous activity Students are also grouped into pods of five.

Currently, Kitsap County is in the moderate range of 25 to 75 cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days and less than 5 percent positive test rate. That category allows for scrimmages, intra-team competitions and league games for low- and moderate-risk sports. No tournaments are allowed, but the WIAA is permitted to hold its district, regional and state playoffs.

Low-risk sports include cross country, golf, swim and dive, tennis and track and field. Moderate-risk sports include baseball, bowling, gymnastics, soccer, softball and volleyball.

Guidance from the governor’s office and the state Department of Health has allowed the WIAA to develop statistical benchmarks using the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in a given county as well as the percentage of positive tests to determine return-to-play guidelines.

Although the fall season has already been postponed — West Central District 3, which covers most Kitsap teams, and the major District 2 conferences, including the Metro League, had already delayed those sports to spring — WIAA Season 2, which involves winter sports, is still tentatively set to begin Dec. 28.

“The WIAA executive board and staff are pleased with the work that has been done to allow students to be more involved with their schools,” the WIAA says in a news release, “as participation in the school setting provides safer and more equitable opportunities for students …”

The new guidelines must be followed, and, according to the WIAA, schools and community programs cannot implement anything more lenient.

High-risk sports are permitted once a county gets under 25 cases per 100,000 during the previous 14 days and less than 5 percent positive test rate. High-risk sports include basketball, football and wrestling, along with any cheerleading or dance that involves contact.

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