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Pennsylvania issues new guidelines, exempting football players

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The state of Pennsylvania on Friday clarified her new mask mandate, saying that footballers, whether pro or youth, who compete on the field, are exempt for medical reasons.

The new interpretation comes a day after Gov. Tom Wolfs’ press secretary said the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the many high-profile football teams in the state, were not exempt from the latest COVID-19 protocols.

Those protocols, released Tuesday, would require Steelers players and their opponents to wear masks at all times, including on the field. The University of Pittsburgh, where Virginia Tech will be held Saturday, said its players would comply.

But the state changed its tune Friday, pointing to Section 3 of his order on face covers. Wearing a mask in addition to a mouthguard and a helmet would likely cause a medical problem for the athlete, the new accompaniment reads. It cites CDC guidelines, which say that wearing a mask with these types of protective equipment is not safe if breathing becomes difficult.

Pennsylvania guidance now reads in full:

Can an athlete remove their mask while playing if the mask is causing a medical condition, including respiratory problems that interfere with breathing?

Yes, the warrant provides an exception in Section 3 that states that wearing a face cover would either cause a medical condition or aggravate an existing one, including respiratory problems that interfere with breathing, mental illness, or disability. The warrant specifies that all alternatives to wearing a face cover, including the use of a face shield, must be exhausted before a person is excluded from this warrant.

Using football as an example, wearing a mask in addition to a mouthguard and a helmet would likely pose a medical problem for the athlete, whether the athlete is a professional or youth player, even if there was no previous medical problem. For example, the CDC says that “wearing a mask with this type of protective equipment is not safe if breathing becomes difficult.” There are other sports where there is a similar concern that a mask could cause a medical problem where one would otherwise not exist in an athlete. For example, it should also be understood that wearing a mask while swimming is an imminent health problem.

According to section 3, the athlete would be asked to find alternatives that would reduce or eliminate the respiratory drops that would affect others nearby. If the sport, equipment, or exercise level does not allow for face cover to be safely worn, the athlete should not wear a face cover.

The clarification appears to exempt not only the Steelers, but all Pennsylvania University and High School players from mask requirements while on the field of play. Penn State had also previously claimed that its footballers were exempt. Pitt and Virginia Tech no longer have to comply.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin celebrates as he leaves the field after a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in an NFL football game on Sunday, November 15, 2020 in Pittsburgh.  (AP Photo / Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been a consistent mask wearer, but his players don’t have to be on the field. (AP Photo / Keith Srakocic)

Would a mask mandate make sense for football players?

The mandate, experts told Yahoo Sports, would indeed have reduced the risk of transmission of the coronavirus on the field. Masks have been proven to limit, but not prevent the spread of COVID-19. And “there is no reason to believe that breathing in football is different from normal breathing,” said Emory University epidemiologist Zachary Binney. It is even worse because it is more difficult. So there is no reason why I can think of why masks shouldn’t be. useful.

But in the scary context of the Steelers and Penn State, doctors said, the mandate would be relatively insignificant. Its effect on public health would be largely negligible. It would reduce the risk slim to just smarter. “I feel like we may be in an area more disruptive than it’s worth,” Binney said of the required masks on the field simply because the chances of someone being infectious coming onto the field are so low. “Both the NFL and the Big Ten test players on a daily basis. This allows them to identify most, but not all, players who have the virus and are able to spread it.

“We’re always trying to balance risks and benefits here,” Binney said. The field mandate, if it’s making these guys more difficult to breathe … that may seem further than we should need. There is more. of an argument for it in college, and certainly in youth and high school where players aren’t anywhere close to being tested every day.

In fact, perhaps the main usefulness of a Steelers mandate was the message it sent, experts said. Kathleen Bachynski, an epidemiologist at Muhlenberg College, calls it role modeling for the public. Millions of Pennsylvanians watch the Steelers every week. The idea is that if Ben Roethlisberger with a mask under the middle convinced a small section of the common citizen to wear a mask, it could be beneficial for public health. I think it helps normalize it for some people, Binney said. And that’s really good.

However, that message can be sent from the sidelines. On the field, the mandate does not affect the Steelers or Philadelphia Eagles. It does not affect the Philadelphia Union, which will also host a Major League Soccer playoff game next week. But not because they receive special treatment like pros, simply because wearing a mask can hinder performance, or because it carries its own medical risks during high-exertion sports.

There are no exceptions for specific sports, leagues, teams, or levels, Pennsylvania’s guidance says. We know some people don’t like masks. We ask everyone to please do their utmost so that we can continue these and other activities as we all unite to fight COVID-19.

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