Wearing masks during practices and games and starting the winter sports season without fans in attendance are being discussed as Minnesota high schools prepare to resume practices for winter sports on Jan. 4.
The Minnesota State High School League briefed about 380 school officials Tuesday during a virtual meeting in the wake of Gov. Tim Walz's order last week to extend a pause on youth sports to help control the spread of COVID-19.
"We should be prepared to have to wear masks in sports for practice and competition, yet we don't know that'' as a certainty, said Bob Madison, league associate director.
During the fall, most sports were played outside and mask use was optional. Some volleyball players wore them, along with some coaches and game officials. Madison said he's "not sensing'' that face shields would be required, as has been mentioned for teachers.
Questions also are being asked about mask use by swimmers and wrestlers.
Madison said he's heard sentiment, including in meetings with other youth sports organizations, for starting seasons without fans at games, ''allowing us to get started, minimizing interruptions or disruptions due to that environment being uncontrolled.''
Walz's order sought to minimize social gatherings to reduce community spread of the virus, seen as a significant source of a spike in new cases.
Before fall sports were shut down on Nov. 21, up to 250 spectators were allowed to attend games and meets, although some schools enacted more restrictive measures.
It's not known when winter sports games can resume. Madison and league Executive Director Erich Martens said there are ongoing discussions with the Minnesota Department of Health, with the league providing information and seeking clarification about changes in the order issued last week.
One of those changes has league officials seeking to know whether school swimming pools will be more restricted than they were in the fall, when the girls' swimming and diving season was held. Madison said there has been "as much dialogue around that as anything else.''
Pod sizes are another area of discussion, with most winter sports moving to indoor venues such as hockey arenas and gyms. Madison said limiting pods to 25 people has worked well in many sports but not others. Locker rooms also are getting scrutiny, given concern about airflow in confined spaces, he said.
While the league waits for updated information from the state, officials are continuing to work on plans for holding postseason competition, including state tournaments. They were not held for fall sports.
"People want us back in their buildings to the best of their ability when it is feasible,'' Madison said, adding that he's not sure what that portends for having fans.
He also acknowledged frustration felt by schools, shifting to holiday breaks, trying to plan for a season starting in less than two weeks with many big questions.
"We will be ready with guidance as quickly as possible to get you started on Jan. 4,'' Madison said.