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Youth sports: MDH’s outdoor mask rules for coaches, players and spectators don’t make sense

While nothing in life is zero risk, especially during a pandemic, focusing on mask-wearing outdoors is not only superfluous, it’s unproductive.

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

As the pandemic continues to evolve, the one thing most of us seem to agree on is that being outdoors without a mask is extremely low risk.

Mask-wearing has been the topic of much debate since the beginning of the pandemic. While most Americans have come to accept and embrace mask-wearing indoors, outdoor mask-wearing has ganerally been considered unnecessary, especially in situations where social distancing is possible. And now we know it’s highly unlikely an individual, especially a vaccinated individual, would contract COVID-19 during most outdoor activities.

As I write this, more than half of Americans have been vaccinated and nearly 60 percent of Minnesotans have received at least one vaccine dose. And on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced more relaxed guidelines on mask-wearing outdoors for people who have been vaccinated.

During a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the move to relax outdoor mask-wearing recommendations is “common sense” as the evidence shows that “outdoor risk is really, really quite low.”

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While common sense is prevailing at the CDC, it appears to be dwindling at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). On April 24, MDH released more stringent guidelines for mask-wearing outdoors during the 2021 baseball/softball season. Those mandatory guidelines include that masks/face coverings must be worn by coaches and players “when not actively participating on the field of play and unable to maintain at least six feet away from others.”

The official guidelines — which aren’t so much guidelines as they are mandates, considering that any team not abiding by the rules can be banned from playing — also include this inexplicable requirement for parents and spectators:

Masks/face coverings are required at all times for patrons of outdoor venues, unless the individual is exempt or permitted to temporarily remove their face covering under Executive Order 20-81 (as amended by 21-11).

As the proud mom of a White Bear Lake baseball player, who wrote about the necessity of getting kids back to sports during the pandemic in the June 18 issue of MinnPost, here, I can’t fully comprehend the logic driving MDH’s new rules.

MDH’s goal should be to encourage folks to go outdoors when they get the itch to socialize with family and friends who don’t live with them, or when they want to watch a youth baseball game. Requiring masks outdoors does the exact opposite.

While nothing in life is zero risk, especially during a pandemic, focusing on mask-wearing outdoors is not only superfluous, it’s unproductive.

Tina Mortimer
Tina Mortimer
I’m no public health expert, but it seems reasonable to suggest that the MDH put its focus on the situations that are riskiest and pull back a little on the safer settings. In a time when trust in public officials is low, this might actually give people more confidence in public health messages. And isn’t that the goal? To encourage healthier behaviors — not unrealistic, zero-risk behaviors?

With extra safety measures in place — measures that have already been carefully developed by the Baseball Alliance of Minnesota, a collaboration of MYAS/Gopher State and Metro Baseball, the two largest statewide, community-based baseball organizations — there is no reason why players, coaches, and especially spectators should be forced to wear masks outdoors.

We’re making great strides in vaccinating our communities. And I think I speak for many parents of young athletes when I say we’re happy and grateful for the COVID-19 vaccine and the opportunity for our kids to play ball. Let’s not put a damper on that excitement and enthusiasm by mandating masks at games.

Tina Mortimer is a freelance writer based in the Twin Cities. Her work has been published in many local publications, including Minnesota Parent and Minnesota Good Age.

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