High school athletes across the state this week got an injection of hope that there will indeed be games to play this spring after nearly a year of COVID-19 restrictions.
But while the decision makers made clear that could happen – from the Governor announcing the green light on a return to in-person learning on Feb. 8 to the Public Education Department and the New Mexico Activities Association essentially confirming a tentative start date of Feb. 22 for high school sports – there hadn’t been talk about how that could be so within the parameters of the existing public health order.
After all, a return to in-person learning at high schools only solves half the equation for a return to the fields and courts. A public health order remains in place that prohibits mass gatherings like practices and games.
Thursday, the Governor’s Office confirmed to the Journal the state’s intent – barring significant signs of virus spread in the 14 days after in-person learning resumes in public schools – to draft guidelines that make high school sports exempt from the mass gatherings portion of the public health order.
It remains unclear when non-school-based sports – at the youth or recreation levels, for example – might be allowed to resume.
“The state is working with the NMAA and developing updated CSPs (Covid Safe Practices guidelines) for school-based athletics that will address the various aspects (of the public health order the Journal asked about Thursday),” said Nora Meyers Sackett, Press Secretary for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “The focus right now is on safely expanding in-person learning opportunities for New Mexico students, and any potential changes to additional guidelines will be dependent upon the success with which New Mexicans continue to slow the spread of the virus by wearing a mask and not gathering unnecessarily with non-household members.”
The “CSPs” drafted for high school sports will be similar in theory, though it remains unclear how similar in specific detail, to the exemptions for pro and college sports in the health order – titled “COVID-Safe Practices for Professional Sports” and the “COVID-Safe Practices for Intercollegiate Sports.”
The guidelines for college sports were first put in place in mid-October and, until last week, had prohibited practices in the state if a county’s COVID-case count had a 14-day average above eight per 100,000 and a test positivity rate higher than 5% in that time frame.
Most counties remain in that “red” category, but that clause now only prohibits games, not practices, for pro and college sports.
Such details for high school games to take place still need to be drafted.
“I am working closely with the governor’s office and the PED on school-based, COVID-safe practices,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said.
The Journal’s James Yodice contributed to this report.