No Vax, No Season
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The PSAL, NYC’s public high school athletic league, has sent a clear message to the 20 thousand athletes in the high school system: get vaccinated and wear a mask, or don’t play.
This rule applies to athletes of all high-risk sports, which the PSAL defines as football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, stunt, and rugby. Bowlers will also need to comply due to the rules of certain alleys. Athletes will only be permitted to play if their first doses take place before the first day of competitive play.
This decision has proven to be a controversial one. It is difficult to wear a mask during physical activity, especially in sports with a lot of cardio like soccer, track, and basketball. Additionally, most professional and college athletes aren’t required to wear masks, so the decision to mandate that high schoolers wear them has puzzled some, especially considering that they are already at a lower risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Others believe that the vaccination requirement is a needed precaution, but the masks are not. If all athletes are vaccinated in the field, the risk is already small, and most sports are played outdoors, where transmission is far lower than indoors. The CDC’s official website notes that masks are generally not required in outdoor settings. As per this guidance, it may be more reasonable for masks only to be required in indoor sports.
“I think it makes sense that it’s required to have a vaccine to play because of what happened last year [...] Games get canceled because schools have outbreaks and teams forfeit games, and that messes things up for other schools,” senior and boys’ varsity soccer co-captain Leo Rahn said. “But with masks, it’s really hard to play sports, especially outdoor sports. I don’t find them as necessary but understand where they’re coming from.”
Senior Alejandro Alonso, also on the soccer team, agreed with Rahn’s sentiment. “Forcing players to wear masks in PSAL will prevent our reintegration into society as normal after the COVID pandemic,” Alonso said.
Other student athletes think the PSAL has made all the right choices and could do even more. “I think [the] PSAL’s mandates on vaccinations and masks are essential and are long overdue. They should’ve done it for this year’s spring season,” sophomore and stunt team member Lorraine Li said. “I think random rapid testing beforehand would do good for high-risk sports since even with precautions you [can] still get COVID.” Li believes that had the PSAL implemented these changes earlier, the spring 2021 season would have been possible, potentially saving graduating seniors’ final seasons.
New York City’s vaccine and mask mandates are coming on the tails of cautionary tales from sports systems in cities like Memphis, Tennessee. The Memphis high school sports system remained open during the pandemic, and athletes and coaches accounted for over 80 percent of positive cases in the school community, which led to many school shutdowns.
One point of debate is that students at school are not required to be vaccinated, while athletes are required to in order to play. Students, unlike most athletes, will be indoors in close contact with their peers. No matter what social distancing guidelines are in place, there will inevitably be contact and risk for transmission.
“Sports help keep young people healthy, and vaccines will keep them in the game,” Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said in a statement. “This is a sensible approach to athletics that involve closer contact. We applaud the Department of Education for taking this step to protect young athletes.”
All controversy and politics aside, New Yorkers can agree on one thing: it’s great to have high school sports back.