Outdoor athletes not required to wear masks during play, health officials say

The Minnesota Department of Health now says that athletes playing outdoor sports can remove their masks while actively playing on the field or court.

According to the MSHSL, the new masking recommendation began Thursday. 

Players and coaches said they were glad to see the rule change.

"We hoped it would only be a matter of time until the Minnesota state high school league changed the rule and thankfully, that’s occurred," Joe Fittante, head coach of the Shakopee High School softball team said. 

"We all are pretty far apart from each other so I think we stay pretty distanced so it’s nice not to have to wear one," player Riley Leadstrom said. 

The new guidance from MDH says masks are still required while not actively playing, like when someone is on the sidelines or in the dugout. Face coverings are still required during indoor sports.

MDH: Athletes should test weekly

The masking guidance was paired with the recommendation that athletes, coaches and officials participating in all sports should be testing for COVID-19 weekly.

According to a release from the MDH, in the last week, the number of school-related COVID-19 cases in students exceeded the high set during the fall surge in November.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the last month has been "worrisome."

The state says it has seen more hospitalizations among people under 60 years old than older Minnesotans and more than 60 percent of cases statewide have been the B.1.1.7. variant, which is more transmissible and has more severe symptoms.

Students who don’t participate in sports or group activities are encouraged to get tested every two weeks.

To facilitate this recommendation, the health department is asking schools to make COVID-19 more accessible onsite. The state says it will provide free COVID-19 saliva test kits for any middle school, high school or organized sports team that requests it.

"They would be able to pick that up take It home take the test and bring it back the school would send it in to the lab," Dr. Heather Mueller, Commissioner of Department of Education.