Conn. (WTNH) — On Monday, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) issued new winter sports guidelines for interscholastic, youth, and other amateur sports activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those guidelines include no masks during play for unvaccinated athletes in some sports.

Fully vaccinated athletes, coaches, officials, and other participants in all sports will:

  • No longer need to quarantine after exposure to a known COVID-19 case if they remain asymptomatic
  • Do not need to be included in regular screening testing programs for COVID-19
  • Can actively compete (i.e., in-game) without a mask as of Dec. 23, 2021

“Masks should be worn at all other times while indoors by all participants, including during practices, and while sitting in bench areas, while spectating, and during entry and exit,” DPH added.

There are some athletes in certain sports, however, that are exempt from this mask rule: “Due to the risk of entanglement and choking, athletes participating in certain athletic activities (e.g., a wrestling match, swimming or diving events, indoor track jumping events, cheer/dance/gymnastics stunting) may engage in these contests without a mask regardless of vaccination status.”

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) released a statement following the DPH’s new guidelines saying their new guidance will align with all DPH guidance for youth and interscholastic sports throughout Connecticut.

Practice for the winter sports season starts after Thanksgiving. Seven different sports plus competitive dance and cheerleading are getting ready for their regular seasons in mid-December.

Highlights of the CIAC Winter Sports Guidance include:

  • Permitting vaccinated student-athletes to participate in basketball, hockey, and track running events without a mask after school is released for the winter holiday break will be at the discretion of each local school district.
  • Fully vaccinated student-athletes can be unmasked during play of all sports.
  • For student-athletes vaccinated or not, masks must be worn in all indoor settings including sidelines, locker rooms, and travel busses.
  • For spectators, masking and vaccination policies will be left up to each district.
  • All CIAC winter sports will play a full schedule, including multi-team events and interstate competition, and culminate in CIAC State Championships.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends consideration of several different variables in assessing the potential risks for COVID-19 spread, including:

  • Community levels of COVID-19
  • Vaccination status of participants
  • Level of intensity of activity
  • Physical closeness of players
  • Length of time that players are close to each other or to staff
  • Setting of the sporting event or activity (e.g., indoors vs. outdoors)
  • Size of the team
  • Ability to engage in physical distancing while not actively engaged in play (e.g., during practice, on the sideline, or in the dugout)

DPH said all “athletic organizations should strongly encourage all eligible participants to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.” They also encourage teams and organizations to host vaccination clinics for those players and families who may not have easy access to the vaccine.

This guidance has been updated for the 2021 winter sports season, beginning Nov. 29, 2021.