Coronavirus, Featured, Jefferson County

Jeffco health overrules state’s high school sports variance; says all athletes must be masked

JEFFERSON COUNTY — Despite new guidance from the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) allowing “Season C” outdoor athletes — and some indoor athletes — to unmask while they are participating, Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) notified schools under its purview that masks will remain required 100 percent of the time.

On March 1, CHSAA released its Season C variance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) which included both overall and specific guidelines for volleyball, bowling, gymnastics, soccer and field hockey.

However, emails obtained by Complete Colorado from frustrated parents, coaches and athletic directors in the Jefferson County school district — the state’s second largest — said their athletes will be forced to continue masking 100 percent of the time, despite allowing football athletes to unmask earlier in the year.

“The Jefferson County mask order is still in effect and it does cover both inside and outside activities, with no exception for sports,” a statement from JCPH read in one of the emails. “So, regardless of CHSAA announcements that may be forthcoming, unless that mask order is revised or rescinded all student athletes participating in Jefferson County are expected to continue to follow the mask order.”

In a follow up call to JCPH, Ashley Sever, public affairs manager for the department, confirmed that position. The opinion is different than that of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which approved the variance for CHSAA.

It just is not a sound public health approach to lift masking, an effective and inexpensive COVID-19 transmission prevention mechanism, for just one section of the Jeffco community while still requiring it for all others,” Dawn Comstock, Executive Director, JCPH told Complete Colorado. “Thus, sports will not receive an exemption. Athletes will be able to put their masks away when all others in Jeffco are similarly able to put theirs away.”

Under that variance, several sports’ athletes will not be required to wear masks while participating, including gymnastics (unmasked competitors must remain at least 25 feet apart from every other individual except for safety personnel such as spotters), all outdoor sports (only for active players; coaches, spectators and any player sidelined or resting must still wear masks), indoor soccer and field hockey must also wear masks.

The directive comes despite Jeffco allowing football athletes to play unmasked, irritating some parents, who called the decision by the new director “a complete joke.”

“More ridiculous orders from unelected bureaucrats,” one email read. “A lot of parents are not happy and not sure where to turn. … Just more power-hungry people telling us and our kids how to live our lives.”

According to the state’s COVID statistics, Jeffco’s one-week positivity rate is at 3.2 percent, below the 5 percent threshold put forth by the state. The county currently operates in the blue level of the state COVID dial currently in place.

Jeffco is not alone, however, health officials in Boulder County, which has an even lower one-week positivity rate of 2.6 percent, have consistently denied variances put out by CHSAA for the Boulder Valley School District, most recently rejecting the wrestling variance.

Most school districts, however, are following the CHSAA guidelines.

Bob Billings, Greeley-Evans School District 6 athletic director, said his school district, the 12th largest in the state, will continue to follow protocols put out by CHSAA. The district is making necessary changes to comply, such as individual chairs on sidelines that are appropriately socially distanced versus benches.

“Unless something was to change drastically, there is no indication that we would do anything different,” Billings said.

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