(Update: adding comments from OHA)

Basketball now only Season 4 sport where masks are required at all times, unless there’s proof of full vaccination

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — The Oregon Health Authority told NewsChannel 21 Friday morning it will likely not be revising the mask mandate for high school basketball players, despite recently doing so for other indoor sports, such as wrestling.

Here’s the statement from OHA spokesman Rudy Owens, in full:

“First, face coverings are required for basketball indoors. However,  there are sports where wearing a face covering is not feasible. Wrestling and swimming are two such activities. We have an FAQ addressing that (Q22).

“Also, guidelines for K-12 school sports are now based on a county’s COVID-19 risk level (lower, moderate, high, extreme). Guidelines for K-12 school sports are not dependent on school health metrics from the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.

“Indoor K-12 sports may resume in accordance to the guidance outlined in this document (Sector Guidance – Indoor Recreation and Indoor Fitness Establishments) and must comply with the restrictions based on the county’s COVID-19 risk level.

“Interschool competitions for indoor K-12 school sports are permitted and must follow the indoor recreation and fitness maximum capacity limits for the county where the competition takes place.

“Lastly, basketball is considered one of the multiple full-contact sports that ‘involve a requirement or substantial likelihood of routine, sustained close proximity or physical contact between participants.’

“Unfortunately, at this time there are no changes anticipated for basketball. We continue to make updates as new data becomes available.”

This announcement comes in response to the backlash OHA received after leaving high school basketball off the list of indoor sports where student-athletes no longer need to wear masks during competition.

“I wouldn’t say I’m upset,” Bend High girls’ basketball Head Coach Allison Gardner told NewsChannel 21 Thursday. “I don’t really get upset by anything anymore. You just kind of take it as it comes.”

The new guidelines list an exception for indoor sports such as wrestling, swimming, gymnastics and water polo, because, according to OHA, masks during competition are “not feasible.” OHA offered some clarification on wrestling, saying the mask can be a potential choking hazard.

Basketball, though, was the only Season 4 sport not included on the updated mandate.

“I do wonder why our kids can’t play without masks? It would be great,” Gardner said. “It is really hard.”

Unlike those other sports, basketball players must provide a proof of vaccination in order to compete without a mask on.

District 55 State Rep. Vikki Breese Iverson, R-Prineville, sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown Thursday, voicing her concern.

“Governor, this is unacceptable,” she wrote. “Basketball is underway now, and kids around the state are at risk from complication due to a lack of oxygen from wearing masks in cardiovascular intense sports. How can the OHA justify that wrestling without a mask poses less of a COVID-19 transmission risk than playing basketball?”

The letter comes on the heels of the Crook County School District superintendent and school board asking for a similar change. NewsChannel 21 reported Wednesday the school district also reached out to state officials to allow basketball players to follow the same guidelines as wrestling.

Crook County Superintendent Sara Johnson argues basketball requires constant and vigorous exercise with frequent physical interactions, and should be included on the list.

Oregon School Activities Association Executive Director Peter Weber said he would like to see that change as well, but his hands are tied, as the OSAA takes direction from OHA.

“I’m hopeful that there will be changes,” Weber told NewsChannel 21 Thursday. “It’s a little bit of a difficult position, when we’re not the ones making those decisions.”