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Creswell High School football players practice Tuesday in anticipation of the season being played.

The Oregon Health Authority made a timely audible -- one that may have saved the high school football season.

 The Governor’s Office announced on Wednesday, Feb. 10 that the OHA is revising its guidance for outdoor contact sports (football, soccer, cross country) and will ease restrictions for schools that have returned to at least limited in-person learning.

Football teams can now begin full-contact practices as they prepare to open the season on March 1 -- assuming, of course, they continue to meet all of the health and safety protocols.

That’s a big relief for local schools, as Lane County has been perched in the extreme-risk category for several weeks.

“We are ecstatic that there is an avenue for football to be played as scheduled this year, as well as getting the official green light for soccer and cross country,” Creswell High School Athletic Director Brandon Standridge said in a text message. “We are also hopeful that volleyball will begin on time, continuing our downward trend that is potentially moving us into the high-risk county metric the next time counties are able to move.”

In addition to meeting health and safety protocols, schools in high- and extreme-risk counties wishing to resume outdoor contact sports “must also have at least limited in-person instruction occurring, with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year,” the release from the Governor’s office said. “Schools must also be in compliance with state guidance for COVID-19 testing.”

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Baseball players practiced their swing in the batting cages.

At this point, all Oregon counties meet the COVID-19 case metrics for limited in-person instruction.

Gov. Kate Brown called on high school athletes to be “leaders in your communities,” reminding them of their responsibility on and off the field. She said that if the COVID-19 numbers spike, the state might have to shut down contact sports again.

“It is not lost on me that this decision today will allow high school football to resume, when too many high school classrooms across Oregon remain empty,” Brown said after the announcement.

Schools in lower- and moderate-risk counties are in the clear for football activities. Those in high- and extreme-risk counties, such as Lane, “must offer on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19,” according to the Governor’s release.

EMMA ROUTLEY/ THE CHRONICLE

COVID-19 regulations require just six tennis players allowed at a time in the building.

“With regards to the next steps, we will need to look at the actual guidance about what it takes to comply with what OHA and the Governor is requiring for extreme and high-risk counties to begin contact football,” Standridge said. “Our team has begun conditioning practices this week, so we will continue that until we get more specific information on the opt-in process.

 “I will also meet with our superintendent, Mr. (Mike) Johnson, to coordinate the logistics of the new guidance and what that will entail, with one piece being the testing of symptomatic coaches and/or athletes. 

“Personally, I am just excited that there is a tangible start date to actual practice and competitions that gives our students real hope that we are going to be back on campus soon, and am also looking forward to getting more students back on campus for academics as well in the next couple of weeks.”