Walz’s Mask Mandate for High School Sports Questioned

Gov. Tim Walz claims to be all about the science when it comes to his proclamations of who can and cannot do what in exercising his emergency powers during the pandemic. Yet Walz’s latest executive order (EO) requiring most high schoolers participating in sports to wear protective masks clashes with his own guidelines giving professional athletes a pass from having to comply with the same restrictions.

Professional athletes get the state’s benefit of the doubt, while high school students and businesses throughout the state do not, in the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.

The EO is intended to balance the risks of organized sports with the ability of professional athletes to pursue their livelihood. We also expect athletes who compete professionally to be overseen by an organizations or entities that have developed sophisticated measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, such as regular testing programs or “bubble”-like environments. Further, professional athletes and organizations generally have legal obligations and financial incentives to avoid COVID-19 infection to the maximum extent possible.

Masks must be worn by students upon resumption of practice on January 4, except in sports where masks present a risk of choking. That includes a reprieve for wrestling, probably the most contact intensive high school sport.

The state mask mandate for some athletes and sports, but not others led the leader of the parents’ group Let Them Play Minnesota to question the scientific basis for Walz’s latest salvo on students in the Star Tribune.

Word reached her Monday of the Minnesota Department of Health’s latest guidelines for winter sports, which include athletes wearing masks throughout practices and competitions. [Dawn] Gillman was flabbergasted.

“The Minnesota Department of Health just threw this out there with no data to support it,” Gillman said.

As of Monday, 65% of the 5,160 deaths from COVID-19 in Minnesota have occurred in long-term care communities, state records show. In the 15- to 19-year-old age group, zero deaths have been reported from 31,957 cases.

Yahoo Sports found that some college teams that have tried wearing protective masks have run into issues.

Some schools have worn masks during warmups and found them to be uncomfortable.

”When we first got here, we tried the mask thing and good lord, it felt like we were in Denver (at high altitude),” Michigan men’s basketball senior forward Isaiah Livers said after scoring 22 points in an 81-71 win over Oakland on Sunday…

”With the testing that we’re doing here, with what we’re doing at home where we get tested three times a week … No, I’m not a big advocate of wearing a mask for the games,” said Dawn Staley, coach of No. 1 South Carolina.”

Ditto for some Minnesota high school coaches reached by the paper.

“Masks are safer, but they are going to create their own innate problems, unfortunately,” said Willie Braziel, Columbia Heights boys’ basketball coach. “It’s going to be tougher to breathe. And it’s going to be an adjustment for players who have asthma.”

The state could have left it up to schools, coaches and parents to decide whether their kids should be required to wear masks or not. But there’s no masking Walz’s confidence that he and his experts know better, especially when  it comes to making exceptions to their rules.