Fall sports make a comeback, but the rules have changed

Dozens of high school football stadiums around the Northwest will welcome teams back to the turf and fans back to the stands this Labor Day weekend, making for scenes reminiscent of pre-pandemic life. But the delta variant remains a significant threat and COVID-19 precaution is still Topic No. 1 as a full slate of prep sports begins.

“We know more about prevention and we know more about how to keep ourselves safe,” says Dr. Jonathan Drezner, director of the UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology. “But I would still be cautious.”

The Washington State Department of Health agrees, with updated requirements for K-12 sports. Under the new rules, masks are not required for any athletes in outdoor competitions, and athletes can also play without masks in most indoor settings – but only while actively practicing or competing. Unvaccinated athletes of certain high-contact indoor sports will need twice-weekly tests for COVID-19.

Masks on the sidelines and in cheering sections are still required indoors by state order, and starting next week in King County, masks will be required at any outdoor event with 500 or more people.

“If you're crowded in the stands watching a game, I think everyone should be in a mask. That's just a safer thing to do,” says Drezner.

For Drezner, the fact that the high school sports are game-on is a win for all involved.

“We have opportunities this year that we didn't have last year in terms of fall sports, and I think those are here to stay. We need to continue to find a way to keep sports going, regardless of what the pandemic is doing.”

UW Medicine