AUGUSTA — Those participating in or attending high school sporting events late in the coming days and months will get to breathe in just a little bit more of the springtime air.
The Maine Principals’ Association announced Wednesday an update to its policy regarding masks and face coverings during outdoor athletic competitions. Face coverings will no longer be required for athletes during practices and competition or for spectators who are able to maintain at least 6 feet of physical distancing.
The announcement came one day after Governor Janet Mills announced the end of the state’s outdoor mask mandate. That mandate was lifted a matter of hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued revised public health recommendations for vaccinated (and even some unvaccinated) individuals in outdoor settings.
Locally, Ellsworth and Bucksport announced Wednesday evening that they would be adopting the MPA’s resolution on masks effective immediately. On Friday, George Stevens Academy Athletic Director Larry Gray and Deer Isle-Stonington Athletic Director Betsy Woodward told The American that their schools would also be abiding by the new guidelines.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Mount Desert Island said it would be requiring masks at outdoor school events until administrators had time to review guidelines at the end of the week. MDI Regional School System Superintendent Marc Gousse announced Friday that the school would be adopting the MPA’s newest guidance effective Saturday, May 1.
“To date, our district has followed guidance from CDC and MDOE,” Gousse said. “The results speak for themselves; our students, staff, and schools have done a remarkable and successful job in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Although some may disagree, we will continue to follow this guidance and remain aligned with these guidelines until further notice.”
Sumner Athletic Director Rick Dube said that the school would be reevaluating its policy this week. Sumner has no athletic competitions scheduled until Monday’s track meet at Ellsworth High School, which has been rescheduled after Friday’s rain forced the postponement of the event.
Many in high school sports had been pushing for an end to the outdoor mask mandate in the weeks prior to the CDC and MPA announcements. Last Monday, the state received a letter signed by 11 high school track athletes and supported by one state senator and two representatives asking to make mask-wearing voluntary rather than compulsory.
“During races, we can reach close to our maximum heart rates,” wrote Mount Ararat’s Grady Satterfield in the letter, which was published by the Portland Press Herald. “We often surpass our lactate threshold, and athletes become anaerobic for extended durations of time. Although we train to perform in an anaerobic heart-rate zone, a mask severely impacts our performance in this zone, and many are concerned of the impact.”
The MPA was far from the nation’s only high school sports governing body to lift its mask mandate for outdoor athletics following the CDC’s latest update as similar decisions were made in Illinois, Minnesota and North Carolina. Other governing bodies, such as those in Massachusetts and Michigan, announced they would be keeping their mask mandates in place.
The MPA’s spring sports offerings consist of baseball, softball, track and field, tennis and lacrosse (not offered at any Hancock County schools). All five of those activities are held outdoors, though indoor practices are sometimes held in the event of inclement weather or poor field conditions.
Masks will still be required in locker rooms and restrooms as well as on bus rides to and from events. They will also be required for indoor practices should weather or other unforeseen circumstances preclude teams from practicing outdoors.
Masks had been mandatory for athletes, coaches, spectators and all others present at Maine high school athletic events since November. Athletes had competed unmasked in the fall before the state revised its community sports guidelines to make mask policies during competitions more consistent with those of classroom settings.
Update: This story has been amended to include developments through Friday, April 30.