When I first heard Grady was planning on allowing athletes to return to their sports, I was thrilled. However, after learning a mask mandate was set to accompany that change, I was a lot less excited.
As an adamant ultimate frisbee player, I have concerns with the mask regulations in high school sports.
I find that wearing a mask while playing a sport can be very limiting and can make it hard to breathe. In fact, I have seen people throw up from the lack of oxygen and overheating caused by wearing a mask while exercising. It has gotten to the point where athletes can be seen constantly pulling their masks down and gasping for air after every rep.
As a result, I believe Atlanta Public Schools should follow the steps taken by many other school systems in Georgia and make the mask mandate optional for athletes during sports games and practices. This change would align well with Georgia’s health order, which encourages masks but does not require them.
Another reason why the mask requirement should be optional is the growing availability of the Covid-19 vaccine, which has allowed students and coaches to receive a 90 percent immunity to the disease (once vaccinated). About 37 out of every one hundred Georgians have already received at least the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, with the number treated growing fast. Most will say that high schoolers can’t get the vaccine; however, the Pfizer vaccine is cleared for individuals 16 years and up, so excluding freshmen, most high school students are old enough to receive the vaccine.
Being vaccinated offer athletes more protection from symptoms and transmission; as more people get vaccinated, populations can get closer to community immunity (occurs when a high enough percentage of the population is immune to an infectious disease, either through vaccination or previous illness, that the disease is unlikely to spread person-to-person).
The United States expects to have 70 percent of the population vaccinated by September. If this occurred, the community immunity could come into effect, meaning that even those who aren’t vaccinated are at less of a risk.
I believe forcing students to wear masks is taking away from the cooperation and bonds experienced in sports as well. Masks heavily limit interaction among teammates and make it hard for athletes to receive the social benefits from sports. Sports have become one of few remaining outlets for teenagers to be socially active, but it is harder to establish such bonds when you can’t see anyone’s face. Humans interpret personality and feelings based on expressions; it is harder to remember people and understand who they are on a personal level when you can’t see their faces. Communication on the field is also impacted, as it becomes harder to read teammates’ plays and interpret what they want you to do, changing the flow of the sport.
While it is important to continue to take necessary precautions, students should be allowed to assess their own risk and decide whether they want to wear a mask while playing their sport. This mask mandate seems a little redundant for sports and as the vaccine numbers increase, I think APS should consider reevaluating its policies. Although I will persevere and play with a mask if APS requires me to do so, I am in favor of lifting the mask mandate to make it optional.