A basketball sits ready for play at Thunder Mountain High School on Dec. 7, 2021. Starting this week, Juneau's high school basketball and hockey players may participate in enhanced COVID-19 screenings rather than wear a mask while playing. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Prep sports teams breathe easier

New testing options let players drop masks.

Juneau’s high school basketball and hockey teams are breathing easier as they play and practice this week, thanks to Juneau public schools’ newly relaxed masking policy for the sports.

In a memo to school board members, Superintendent Bridget Weiss announced new COVID-19 protocols for players.

Under the new rules, student-athletes can choose to remove masks while practicing and during games, provided they participate in enhanced testing.

The change is consistent with advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends routinely testing student-athletes and other people who may come into contact with them.

According to the CDC’s website, “to facilitate safe participation in sports, extracurricular activities, and other activities with elevated risk (such as activities that involve singing or shouting, band participation, and vigorous exercise that could lead to forceful or increased exhalation), schools should consider implementing screening testing for participants.”

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About the policy

According to the new policy, unvaccinated and vaccinated players and coaches will use self-administered antigen tests the day of local games and take PCR tests before travel. Players with negative test results can choose to play without a mask.

Unvaccinated players and coaches will participate in weekly PCR testing, as well. Those choosing not to test will continue to wear masks.

For teams traveling to Juneau, athletes must wear a mask or participate in PCR testing and show a negative result shortly before arriving for the event.

According to the memo, masks will be required for athletes and coaches who are not actively participating. In addition, masks remain mandatory for those who choose not to test and can always be worn by those who prefer to do so.

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“Between the travel testing and the antigen testing, teams will be testing anywhere from 2 – 3 times a week,” the memo reads.

Weiss said that once the high school program is up and running, officials will consider extending the new protocols to the middle school teams.

She said that the players and coaches who have had a COVID-19 infection in the last 90 days do not need to test, based on guidance from CDC.

“This could change as we move forward and get more information on Omicron,” the memo reads.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.