Start the race, drop the mask.
What a relief.
Faced with a masking mandate for all high school cross country races as the local season gets underway this week, runners got great news on Tuesday when the WIAA announced a change to that policy that will allow runners to pull their masks down once the race begins.
The WIAA had been advocating on behalf of cross country for an exception to the state's mask mandate, which covers all high school practices and competitions in Phase 1 and 2. After earlier requests were denied within the COVID-19 education-based activity guidelines, the Governor's Office and State Department of Health granted the exception on Tuesday.
There was already an exception in place for swimming.
Cross country is the only prep sport in the modified fall season that can hold competitions in Phase 1, which is the current status of the southcentral region and Yakima County. Some races were held last Saturday on the westside with enforcement of the mask policy, which coaches and physicians have argued is unsafe for athletes pressing their respiratory limits.
Coaches have also stressed that the COVID transmission risk for a race conducted with all the other precautions, such as staggered starts with small groups, is extremely low.
The CWAC will be the first local league to conduct races with East Valley and Selah hosts meets on Saturday. The SCAC will hold its first meets next week. Spectators won't be allowed.
In other policy updates announced Tuesday, league play for schools — this is aimed at Hermiston, Ore. — that cross state borders has been included as essential travel. In Phase 2, complexes with more than one field can have a maximum of 75 people allowed per field or area of play, including spectators.