AUSTIN — The University Interscholastic League, the governing body of most Texas public high school athletics, amended its already updated COVID-19 mitigation guidelines Tuesday afternoon following the first weekend of the high school football regular season in some parts of the state.
The UIL updated its COVID-19 guidance again after it was alerted to schools and school districts that violated some of the organization’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and urged schools around the state to heed its warnings before it is forced to take any drastic measures like halting or canceling the remainder of the season in certain areas.
In a news release from the organization’s Austin headquarters, the UIL emphasized that these changes to its COVID-19 risk mitigation guidelines will apply to the entire 2020-21 school year and take effect immediately, while also adding that further revisions to its COVID-19 health and safety protocols will continue to be made on an as-needed basis moving forward.
“Given the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different areas of the state, and the vast geographic area in the state of Texas, UIL is presenting modifications for the 2020-21 school year that reflect the situation at this time,” the organization said in a written statement. “UIL will continue to work with state officials and monitor CDC and other federal guidance to determine any potential modifications that may become necessary. Schools should be prepared for the possibility of interruptions in contest schedules. District Executive Committees should work and plan to accommodate, as best possible, for these interruptions.”
The UIL added that it worked closely with the Texas Education Agency in an effort to mirror TEA-specific guidance and be implemented at Texas public schools alongside them for this school year.
The UIL and TEA have jointly recommended that school districts should identify a staff member or group of staff members that can operate as a compliance officer or board of compliance officers to oversee the implementation and enforcement of these health and safety protocols at their respective schools.
Among the things these compliance officers will be tasked with regulating, enforcing and overseeing: required screenings of student-athletes and staff before attending games or practices; implementation of a mask mandate during practices and games from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office; and screen any and all visitors before entering a facility or area where UIL activities are being performed.
The UIL and TEA are also mandating schools to post these plans, “…on the homepage of the school website or other easily accessible area of the school website,” according to the news release. These plans do not and will not have to be approved by the UIL or TEA before posting.
Additionally, the UIL stated that any student-athletes, school personnel or visitors who contract COVID-19 or come in close contact with an individual who has recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus, those parties will be required to self-isolate at home and refrain from rejoining any UIL activities for a 14-day quarantine period.
“The definition of close contact is evolving with our understanding of COVID-19, and individual scenarios should be determined by an appropriate public health agency,” the organization said in a written statement.
The UIL’s updated definition of close contact falls into two camps: “being within 6 feet for a largely uninterrupted or sustained extended contact period, throughout the course of the day, of approximately 15 minutes,” without a face covering or being “directly exposed” to the virus by being coughed on, for example, by someone in the infectious stages of a COVID-19 diagnosis.
The organization also stressed that parents who suspect their children may be displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or may have been recently exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus to keep their student-athletes at home out of an abundance of caution.
The UIL also provided a lengthy list of identifiable COVID-19 symptoms which include the following: fever or measured temperature greater than or equal to 100.0 degrees Fahrenheit, loss of taste or smell, cough, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, chills, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, shaking or exaggerated shivering, significant muscle pain or ache, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
It added that schools should make hand sanitizer disinfecting wipes, soap and other cleaning supplies readily available in practice areas and thoroughly sanitize shared surfaces often.
Schools and school districts should refer to TEA guidelines regarding transportation practices to and from UIL events and activities, the organization said.
As it relates to gameday operations, the UIL’s new mandate says that the visiting team’s locker room areas must be completely disinfected and cleaned prior to that team’s arrival at the facility. Additionally, host teams must select a designated area where teams can safely load and unload individuals and equipment far enough away from spectators, other students, etc.
All participants from both sides will have to undergo mandatory screenings prior to being allowed onto the field of play or into the venue in which the UIL sanctioned activity is taking place.
The UIL reiterated its stance set by Abbott that outdoor stadiums may open at 50% maximum capacity. The organization offered further clarification Monday, saying that spectator viewing areas must be at least 6 feet away from the sidelines or benches or both participating teams and that fans of different households also be seated at least 6 feet apart and wear face coverings to comply with state health and social distancing guidelines.
The organization also said teams will need to find a socially distant and appropriate alternative to shaking hands at the end of athletic competitions.
Furthermore, non-participating but affiliated student groups — like bands, cheerleaders and dance squads — must be adequately distanced from spectators and players alike, as well.