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Masks required: Youth, high school sports games can begin Jan. 14

Additional guidance on games and spectators is forthcoming.

Games and scrimmages for youth and adult sports can resume on Jan. 14, with masks required in some sports, according to new guidance issued quietly by the State of Minnesota on Monday. 

Previously, the Minnesota Department of Health said practices could resume Jan. 4. The guidance did not say when games with other teams could begin, nor did it include information on spectators. 

Players will be required to wear face coverings at all times in sports like hockey and basketball, but those competing in wrestling, swimming and diving, gymnastics and cheerleader can remove their masks during certain points, the guidance says. That's because there's potential for the mask to become a choking hazard per the American Academy of Pediatrics

"People are not permitted to remove their face coverings during activities that involve a high level of exertion," the guidance states.  

Meanwhile, concessions are not allowed to be sold at games at this time.

Additional guidance for games and scrimmages with other teams is forthcoming, MDH says, noting that the "decision to resume sports does not mean engaging in sports is without risk." 

"Any time you gather with other people, you are putting yourself and others at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19," the guidance states. "The masking, distancing, and other guidance provided ... is intended to reduce the risk of transmission, but does not eliminate it."

Gov. Tim Walz issued a four-week pause on youth and adult sports Nov. 21 through Dec. 18 citing rising COVID-19 rates. Then earlier this month, he extended the pause on sports through Jan. 4, at which time practices can begin with no more than 25 people and no spectators (unless someone needs a parent or guardian due to their age or disability).

The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) in early December approved three scenarios that would allow for students to play regular-season games and have a postseason depending on when youth sports were allowed to resume. 

In a statement Monday, the MSHSL said the new guidance issued Monday is an "important step" as the league moves forward with the winter sports season. 

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“These experiences are so important to students and they have been anxiously waiting to get these winter seasons started,” MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens said in a statement. “By implementing these safety protocols recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and required by the Minnesota Department of Health, we have the best chance to provide safe seasons with reduced interruptions and also plan for full postseason experiences.

“We are excited for the opportunity to start both practices and contests in this winter season,” Martens added. “The commitment to safety by our more than 500 member schools is critical to not only start our seasons, but to finish them as well.”

The MSHSL will issue sports-specific guidance by mid-week.

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