The Montgomery County Council has approved new COVID-19 rules in the Maryland county that loosens restrictions on youth sports previously deemed high-risk.
The council approved the new rules in a 9-0 vote Friday.
The new rules require organizers of sports events to submit COVID-19 safety plans for approval to the county health officer and require players to wear face coverings.
The loosening of restrictions allows Montgomery County Public Schools’ abbreviated, three-game football season to move forward, with the first matches scheduled for next week.
In addition to MCPS, the new measures apply to organized sports leagues throughout the county.
The updated rules come one week after the county council — sitting as the board of health — approved new overall COVID-19 regulations that largely kept in place tighter restrictions on sports such as high school football, cheerleading and pompons that were classified as high-risk.
Under the newly-approved rules, all organized sports played indoors or outdoors can fully resume if they put together a COVID-19 protocol plan approved by the county’s health officer.
The plan requires:
- All participants to wear face coverings, including while playing, per guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Maintain 6 feet of social distancing, where possible
- The use of a student attestation form or COVID-19 monitoring form for coaches and athletes for all activities
- A plan for contact tracing with an attendance tracking sheet
The rules take effect at 5 p.m. Friday.
Sports events have to continue to follow capacity limits on gatherings: 50 people at outdoor events and 25 people for indoor events. For tournaments, championships or other events in the county that are expected to exceed those capacity limits, organizers must obtain a separate “letter of approval” from the county before moving forward.
Spectators at events are still generally barred, according to the rules.
Sports that are not played in organized leagues still need to comply with the gathering limits.
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The rules come just in time for Montgomery County high school football season, which has already been severely scrambled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Because of the newly adopted COVID-19 guidelines, MCPS said Friday in an update that the system’s three-game football season would move forward.
The first games are set for March 25-27. However, while those first games will be played as scheduled “under the lights,” they will be played “in a controlled scrimmage format” to make sure students “have received appropriate instruction on tackling and fundamentals,” the school system said.
In addition, cheerleading may proceed with stunting and full activities, and pompons may proceed with kick lines and full activities, according to the MCPS Athletics update.
Several Montgomery County football players provided testimony during a public hearing before the council vote.
Will Gardner, a junior and the quarterback at Walter Johnson High School, told council members the return of football is a “shining light” after a dark year.
He said team members have strictly adhered to all safety protocols so far. “Being allowed to play matters so much to us,” he added.
Patricio Lara Navarrete, a football player at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, who lost out playing during his junior year because of a torn ACL, said he’s looking forward to being able to finally “suit up for his team” — and to play with his younger brother.
“I know this is our only chance to get to play together on the same team and that opportunity would mean the world to me,” he said.
He pointed to the safety measures players at BCC are taking, including wearing face masks, avoiding the locker rooms and avoiding huddles.
Ricardo Villars Jr., a junior at Montgomery Blair High School, told council members before the vote, “I believe if you give us the chance, we can play the sport we all love but, most importantly, play it safe.”
Council members applauded the students who provided testimony.
“I want to salute the students who came,” said At-Large Council member Hans Riemer. “They rallied. They came to the county council and they raised their voice, and you got our attention to something I think that really had just been an oversight, but you made sure that we didn’t miss it. And your council has responded.”
In D.C. meanwhile, youth sports continue to be more severely restricted. However, a new mayoral order this week allowed some low-contact youth sports, such as baseball, softball, track and field, and tennis, to return to competition April 1.