Our Take: It’s Time to Unmask NM’s Student-Athletes
Editor’s Note: This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the journal rather than that of the authors. We modified it slightly to make it suitable for the Observer.
As COVID cases remain low and vaccination rates rise with daily June temperatures, high school tennis players like Nena Dorame have good reason to wonder why they are still forced to wear a mask when they face an opponent on the other side of the net.
“We are all so far apart. I don’t really understand why I have to do this, ”said the Albuquerque High star, who is linked with Stanford. “I am also fully vaccinated. “
Luke Wysong of Cleveland High School has played on the soccer field and now competes in track and field and is fully vaccinated.
“It’s just hard to breathe because there’s no airflow through your lungs,” he says. “It pretty much bans any tune you could possibly get.”
“It’s always my biggest concern – that these kids have breathing problems because of this mask thing,” added Rio Rancho High School softball coach Paul Kohman after a recent Rams game.
Unlike other states, New Mexico isn’t ready to let young people breathe freely while they play spring sports in the great outdoors.
“In the opinion of the Department of Health, not enough children are still vaccinated,” said governor spokesman Michelle Lujan Grisham Tripp Stelnicki. “We’re not at the point where they feel comfortable removing this requirement.”
He said the governor and the DOH were working on a plan to tie vaccination rates among adolescents with a change in policy regarding the mask requirement for student-athletes.
He adds that “the hope” is that the mandate could be lifted before the end-of-season tournaments in late June – when temperatures in the 90s are typical.
Hope aside, the continued mandate for preparation sports no longer makes sense.
“I understand the need to protect people and minimize the virus,” says Carley Simer, Artesia trackster, who is not yet vaccinated. “This should be everyone’s # 1 goal. But I think it is high time and that he is late.
There is some evidence to back it up.
First, solid data has emerged that there is very little transmission of COVID in outdoor environments as the virus disperses quickly. Outdoors transmission may account for less than 1% of all new cases, according to a recent New York Times article. Granted, the risk would be higher in a baseball dugout, where coaches might require players to mask themselves. But to the child in the right field? Zero risk.
Second, there is absolutely no reason why a vaccinated teenager should wear a mask when playing tennis, baseball, or the running track. No one else who is fully vaccinated is required to wear one, except in settings such as hospitals or doctor’s offices. They are not only protected, but there is also very little evidence that they are spreading the virus. This change could and should be made today.
Finally, it is true that young people can get really sick from COVID, but there is no doubt that the elderly are at a much higher risk of severe or fatal cases.
As for New Mexico being an outlier, legal information retrieval website Justia reports as of June 2, 35 states no longer have statewide mask mandates. Those who did, including New Mexico, were a mixed bag focusing on indoor gatherings or crowded outdoor environments.
All of our neighbors – Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah – are on the warrantless state list. Meanwhile, states such as Oregon, which has a mandate, lifted the mask requirement on May 19 for anyone who participates in or watches outdoor sports – a move heralded as a “big change for kids.” youth sports ”.
The mandate at this point is unnecessary and unfair to the players, and makes so little sense that it risks undermining the fulfillment of legitimate demands.
Rio Grande High baseball coach Orlando Griego summed it up: “Nine players spread over five acres. It’s ridiculous.”
Difficult to argue. These kids are playing hard. It’s time to let them breathe freely.