Spectators may take off masks

School rolls back face covering mandate for indoor sports events

by Nick Wognum
Spectators at Ely’s high school gymnasium are no longer required to wear masks.
Part of the school district’s mask mandate ended Monday night, when school board members removed the requirement for those attending after-school athletic events and made masks “recommended” rather than “required.”
Board members voted unanimously to make the change, which was recommended by district administrators and emerged from discussion a week earlier by the district’s safe learning advisory council.
“One thing we agreed upon was extra-curricular activities after school,” said superintendent Erik Erie. “What I heard in our rationale was if you come to the volleyball game tomorrow, you’re not required to be there. That’s a personal choice whether you’re there or not. You know coming in you’ll be around other people and that there will be people coming in from outside the community. That’s totally up to you. That’s different from the school day when people are required to be there.”
Since implementing an indoor mask mandate at the start of the school year, masks were required for spectators, but not for participants, coaches or other personnel at indoor sports events.
The requirement posed challenges, according to athletic director Tom Coombe, who said visitors from opposing teams were coming from schools that did not have mask requirements in their gymnasiums.
“You would have a situation where one night people from other towns, or our own fans, were watching a game in Babbitt or Aurora and were not required to wear a mask, and then the next night they would come here and have to put one on,” said Coombe.
The Minnesota State High School League does not require face coverings at indoor athletic events and instead leaves jurisdiction to local school districts.
School board member Tom Omerza is part of the safe learning advisory council, the board’s liaison for MSHSL activities, as well as a coach and frequent game worker for district events. He endorsed the change.
“It’s a small step and I think it’s an easy step in that gym,” said Omerza. “There’s going to be a lot better atmosphere in there.”
Ely’s volleyball team hosted Mt. Iron-Buhl Tuesday in the first contest played under the new regulations, which were communicated to parents earlier in the day.
While masks are no longer required for those attending games, the district continues to provide masks at the ticket table for anyone who wants one.