Montgomery County increases limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings, MCPS Athletics releases statement with update

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Student athletes follow COVID-19 precautions and protocols as they practice at Walter Johnson high school.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) – As of 5 p.m. Friday, March 12, the number of people that are allowed in an indoor gathering in Montgomery County has been increased to 25, while the outdoor gathering limit has increased to 50.

In an official Montgomery County Public Schools Athletics Return to R.A.I.S.E. Fall season update, MCPS Athletics said that for low and medium risk sports including bocce, cross country, field hockey, golf, soccer and girls’ volleyball, “scrimmages between team members and full team practices are allowed in advance of the first competition on March 19.”

In the update, MCPS athletics also said that high risk sports, described as football, cheerleading and pompons, “will continue to operate at the previously communicated level of operations,” stating that football will not be permitted to practice with “full protective equipment” and “contact” and that cheerleading can not perform stunting and pompons can not perform kick lines at this time.

The MCPS Athletics pod sizes will coincide with the indoor and outdoor gatherings limits of 25 and 50 respectively.

The decisions from MCPS Athletics Friday are based on the Board of Health Regulations that were decided on by the Montgomery County Council Friday afternoon.

“Given the amendment that was added to the board of health regulation allowing for us to look more closely at a sport by sport determination and we will be working closely with MCPS on individual sports exceptions to the gathering limits,” Dr. Earl Stoddard, the Director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Management Staff, who has been working closely with MCPS Athletics on the safe return to in-person athletics, told WDVM. “I don’t know that we can say exactly what each sport is going to be permitted to do today.”

Stoddard added that because of an amendment added by the council, some exceptions may be made for sports to be played on a case-by-case basis, if it is deemed safe and possible.

“I do think it is our goal to allow sports, where for example if they need 27 or 35 on the field, as opposed to 25, we will be looking to the maximum extent possible to allow them to proceed with those sports,” Stoddard said.

But Stoddard also added that things are more complicated when it comes to football.

“Now when it comes to the high risk, high contact sports, like football, I think that’s a little bit more of a complicated decision,” Stoddard told WDVM. “I certainly don’t think we want to preclude ourselves from saying that we would absolutely consider some of those things, but at the same time, we’re going to have to look very closely at those. And I would not necessarily assume that all of those activities will proceed as they would in other years.”

The County Council spent a large chunk in the latter part of its meeting, discussing whether to make an exception for ice hockey and allow in-person gatherings of ten percent capacity at ice rinks. The council voted on and approved that amendment, 5-4.

Though Stoddard said that he could not say exactly what each sport would be allowed to do as of today, WDVM asked MCPS Athletics to clarify if games will officially take place for all non-football sports starting March 19 and what the status of football games that are set to start on March 26 is. WDVM did not receive a response before the time of publication.

But in an interview with WDVM on March 3, 2021, MCPS Director of Systemwide Athletics Jeff Sullivan said they are focused on planning logistics for all sports and that if local health metrics and officials allow games to be played, they will be ready to be played. Sullivan also said on March 3, that protecting the health and safety of student athletes and their families is his top priority.

At the time of publication, the sports schedules for MCPS Athletics fall sports, including football, were still on the official site https://www.countysports.zone/. Field hockey, volleyball, soccer and bocce are scheduled to begin on March 19, golf on March 22, cross country on March 23 and football on March 26.

According to the Montgomery County government’s official COVID-19 tracking website, the seven-day average of new confirmed cases per 100 thousand residents as of Friday, March 12, is 9.8 which is considered by the site as a “moderate risk of transmission.” On January 12, that number was 49.8, which was the highest in Montgomery County since the beginning of February. 9.8 is approximately as low as its been since late October.

High School football and other fall sports are being played currently in neighboring Northern Virginia counties, as well as Washington and Frederick Counties to the north of Montgomery County.

On Tuesday, March 9, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan eased many COVID-19 restrictions in the state to begin at 5 p.m. Friday, but added that counties can determine their own regulations and the state’s mask mandate would remain in effect. Chief Medical Advisor to the President and the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci has continued to urge caution as cases and hospitalizations have decreased.

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