Mask mandate lifted for outdoor sports


Owen Jones

Sophomore Trevor Kerxhalli clears the high jump at the meet against Advanced Math & Science Academy Charter on June 1st. This is one of their first meets without the requirement to wear masks.

Zoe Manousos, Assistant Sports Editor

For the first time in a year and two months, student athletes participating in outdoor spring sports are able to play without masks. 

Along with various groups of health professionals, superintendent Gregory Martineau was a part of the conversation to make this decision. 

“On May 17, the governor [Charlie Baker] made an announcement that he was going to be lifting his mask mandate and making it a mask-advisory on May 29,” Martineau said. “At the same time, he announced that he was also lifting the mask mandate as of May 18 for outdoor learning environments for the department of elementary and secondary education.”

Soon after Baker announced this information, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) allowed individual schools to decide on the mask mandate for the sports at their school. This left Martineau, the Boards of Health in Northborough and Southborough, the leadership team and the medical advisory team to collaboratively process this information and make a decision for the district. 

“The medical advisory recommended we follow the new guidance, so we made the decision to announce that middle school and high school student athletes, if they can maintain six feet of distance, do not need to wear a mask,” Martineau said. 

Martineau was not informed of Baker’s decision before it was revealed to the public. He and others involved in making the decision had less than one day to decide what they were going to do after hearing this information. 

“[Charlie Baker] put it into effect on May 18, so it gave us a day to process and interpret what it means for our public school system,” Martineau said. “It was challenging in the sense that we had to convene a lot of people so that we could decide what is right for our communities of Northborough and Southborough, and ultimately, it’s a local decision based on the recommendations for the boards of health in Northborough and Southborough.” 

Though Martineau was somewhat frustrated with the lack of time he had to process and implement the new guidelines, he was glad that life is returning back to normal for students. 

“Throughout the school year we’ve been very methodical, and we met all our thinking through the medical advisory team, talked with our leadership team, our school committees and then made the decisions based on the best interests of our students’ health and safety,” Martineau said. 

Medical professional Safdar Medina helped Martineau make this decision. 

“We know that a large number of teenagers are getting vaccinated now, and the virus needs a host to replicate and mutate,” Medina said. “As long as there are less hosts to replicate and mutate, they are less likely to get a serious case because they are immunized.”

Some of the key reasons Medina felt it was safe to have mask-less outdoor sports were the higher rates of vaccination, low risk of outdoor transmission and the pooled COVID testing that athletes are required to participate in.

Medina also encourages teenagers to get vaccinated so that more restrictions can soon be lifted.

“As more and more people get vaccinated, we’ll look to our public health guidance to see where rates of infection are and rates of vaccination are so we can begin easing restrictions and following those restrictions,” Medina said. “As we move forward, we know that a vaccinated individual may test positive for COVID-19 if they are exposed but the viral load is so low that they are at less risk to transmit it and get sick from it.”

For those who are deciding whether or not to get the vaccine, Medina reassured that the vaccine is safe for high schoolers. 

“We have really good information on both the 12 to 15 year age group and the 16 to 18 year age group with the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” Medina said. “If the virus doesn’t have somewhere to replicate, it can’t replicate and mutate, so eventually, it won’t have a place to do its job anymore.”

Besides tremendously reducing the risk of experiencing a serious case of COVID-19, the vaccine allows one to not have to quarantine. 

“When you’re vaccinated you don’t have to quarantine when you are exposed, so if you happen to get exposed to somebody or you were identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19, you wouldn’t have to quarantine,” Medina said. “This is especially true with sports teams because when you are always close with each other for long periods of time, with or without masks, you are still considered a close contact. But if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine, so there’s a huge incentive to get vaccinated.” 

Medina is looking forward to everything returning back to normal as more people are immunized. 

“Throughout the whole year we have obviously taken every precaution we can to make sure we prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the school and in sports, but we are also trying to look after the social and emotional well being of everybody,” Medina said. “To be able to see smiles on other people’s faces is good for everyone’s social and emotional well-being.”