Following the opening week of high school football in many school districts across Texas, on Sept. 1 the University Interscholastic League (UIL) amended the COVID-19 Mitigation Guidelines.
The latest update to the guidelines came after the UIL was alerted to schools and school districts that violated some of the organization’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The UIL 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 written statement, the organization said, “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. 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.”
In a Facebook post, Rice CISD Athletic Director Jared Sloan reminded Raider fans and parents to remain vigilant in following the rules. “The UIL has issued a warning this week that they will shut down all school extracurricular if communities continue to ignore these guidelines. I know we are doing our part in this matter,” Sloan wrote. “We are fortunate at this time to have the opportunity to play and would love the opportunity to continue, please help us by following the guidelines set forth by the state, the UIL and our school district.”
Included in the guidelines is the recommendation that each school appoint a compliance officer or group of staff members to serve as compliance officers.
These members 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.
Each school’s guidelines should be posted on the homepage of the school website or other easily accessible area of the school.
The UIL also 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 are required to self-isolate at home and refrain from rejoining any UIL activities for a 14-day quarantine period.
The UIL’s definition of close contact is as follows: “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 UIL also provided a lengthy list of identifiable COVID-19 symptoms, and noted that schools should make hand sanitizer disinfecting wipes, soap and other cleaning supplies readily available in practice areas and thoroughly sanitize shared surfaces often.
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, and 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.
The full list of guidelines can be viewed at https://www.uiltexas. org/policy/covid-19/2020-2021-uilcovid-19-risk-mitigation-guidelines.