Juneau’s high school student-athletes can take a deep breath as they compete this spring.
With about three weeks left in the school year, the Juneau School District announced new COVID-19 protocols that let student-athletes compete without masks, make it easier to return to school after travel, and establish ongoing surveillance testing at the school for athletes and staff. The changes were shared with families in an email Monday evening.
“We are still using a variety of different mitigation measures in school. But, with the low case numbers, we have been moving carefully to relax some of the rules and protocols as people get vaccinated and the risk to health and safety declines,” said Kristin Bartlett, chief of staff for the district in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a balancing act. Fortunately, Juneau is in a good position to do that right now. At this time, mitigation is working.”
According to Bartlett, a few factors influenced the decision to change the rules, including increasing vaccination rates and an overall low infection rate in the community. A desire to comply with newly relaxed state and local guidelines for travel and the nature of many spring sports also played into the decision.
“The spring activities are largely outside, and many have natural physical distancing, and it’s becoming more clear that incident of transmission outside is very low,” Bartlett said.
Based on the new guidelines, students can remove masks while competing in sports, though individual athletes may choose to wear one. Students must continue to wear masks while practicing, Bartlett explained.
Until this week, students in all sports except for wrestling were required to wear masks during practice and competition.
“Masks are still required for athletes who are on the sidelines, bench, in the dugout, warming up or awaiting the start of the event, athletes and adults who are not actively competing are required to wear a mask. Fans are also required to wear a mask when in the stands or close to other spectators, even when outdoors,” read the email sent to parents Monday evening.
School officials will also require masks in all school buildings and at school activities, including sporting events and outside events, if students are closer than six feet from each other and not eligible to receive the vaccine.
Starting this week, unvaccinated students who travel for school events or personal reasons are encouraged to complete a COVID-19 test at the airport upon arrival and practice social distancing until results are available. However, school policy no longer requires testing. This policy matches city and state quarantine rules.
“We’d prefer non-vaccinated people to stay home and social distance, but it’s not required,” Bartlett said.
According to Monday’s email, voluntary staff testing is available onsite at select schools. In addition, unvaccinated high school athletes and coaches must complete a test each Wednesday to continue to participate in practice and competition.
Fully vaccinated athletes and coaches can show proof of vaccination to be exempt from the new policy.
Currently, vaccines are approved for children age 16 and up. The testing and approval process is underway for vaccine use in younger children, and federal officials have said approval is expected next week.
Bartlett said school officials are making plans with the City and Borough of Juneau to host onsite vaccination clinics quickly after approval.
“If approval happens soon, we will try to hold those clinics before the end of the school year on May 21. Otherwise, we will host a clinic during summer school,” she said.
•Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-308-4891.