Less than a week after Summit High junior Maggie Williams collapsed at the finish line of her 800 meter race, the Oregon Health Authority announced Monday it will no longer require high school student-athletes to wear face masks during non-contact, outdoor sports.
"This is a big step in the right direction," said Dave Turnbull, track and field coach at Summit High School. "We don't want to see another Maggie Williams hit the track."
However, the state is still mandating that masks must be worn for outdoor sports where athletes are less than 6 feet apart. That means coaches will have to get creative with certain track events, Turnbull said.
The two biggest changes will come in the hurdles and the 100-meter sprint — short-distance races where athletes are typically running close to one another for the entire duration. Turnbull said he plans to only fill half the lanes for these events, guaranteeing 6 feet of distance, so sprinters and hurdlers can race without masks.
However, Turnbull believes short events like these wouldn't spread COVID-19 easily, even without 6 feet of distance between runners.
"A 13-second 100-meter race, the risk for transmission seems impossibly low," he said. "You’re at higher risk driving to the meet (in your car).”
The highest risk outdoor events for spreading COVID-19 involve unmasked people in close contact, but only for long periods, according to the Mayo Clinic.
For long distance events — like the 3,000- or 1,500-meter races, where athletes huddle together, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the start line — student-athletes will wear face masks to start, Turnbull said. But once the runners naturally spread out as the race gets going, they can pull their masks down.
Student-athletes must still wear face masks while training for competitions, or directly before and after competitions, according to Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Jonathan Modie.
Modie did not confirm whether or not this rule was changed partially due to Williams' fall during last week's track meet.
Peter Weber — president of the Oregon School Activities Association, which regulates high school athletics in the state — noted that the nonprofit OSAA did not make this mask rule change, nor did they create the original rule. OSAA simply enforces the rules, he said.
Still, Weber was happy to see the Oregon Health Authority relax mask wearing for outdoor non-contact competition.
"We definitely think that it's a positive," he said.