School athletics adjust to evolving COVID-19 protocols

EVERETT, Mass. — High school sports are back this fall, but due to the Delta variant causing a surge in COVID-19 cases, the school districts are adjusting safety protocols almost weekly.

Schools Boston 25 News spoke with are seeing a big student turn out in athletics after a year of remote and hybrid learning. They’re hopeful that this season will be more normal than last.

“There’s something special about Everett Memorial Stadium on a Friday night,” said Everett’s varsity football coach Robert DiLoreto.

The bar is typically set high for Everett football. The expectations this year are no different.

“Everett football has the proudest tradition, in my humble opinion, of any program in the country,” said DiLoreto

The pandemic hit the city of Everett hard last year. High community spread meant most of the school year was remote. DiLoreto said that made it hard to get ready for a shortened three-game season in the spring.

“Getting kids onto the fields and getting their bodies moving took a level of commitment,” he said.

And that commitment remains now with enhanced safety protocols to help limit the spread of the virus.

He says the players all have to check in and check out every day. They also have to scan in and do their COVID-19 checks.

“If they have any symptoms at all, they need to stay away,” said DiLoreto.

The latest MIAA guidance states that masks are not necessary for outdoor athletics like football, but masks will still be required for indoor sports like volleyball.

Milford girls’ varsity volleyball coach Tammy Weber says last year was extremely tough with the shortened season and COVID-19 restrictions. Expectations are much higher this fall.

“It’s just you walk in the mask comes on. It’s just been habit now.” Weber said, “So you know, they’re so excited to be back, and the numbers show it, they all want to be in the gym, even with masks, and be part of the program again.”

Milford athletic director Peter Boucher says the district is trying to leave the chaos of 2020 behind.

“I know our league, we changed the schedule, probably 27-28 times, you know, and you just had to keep evolving and changing and adapting and persevering,” said Boucher.

He says the school-held vaccination clinics over the summer had high student turn-out, and they’re hopeful that will keep the Delta variant under control this season.

Even if it’s not quite how they’d thought team sports would look at the start of the summer.

“It’s like, just take the wind out of your sails a little bit. But um, I don’t know. I feel like, hopefully, this is the second third. And it’s the last surge and, and we might get back to normalcy.” said Weber.

The indoor mask mandate will end on October first if students and staff in their school are over 80% vaccinated against COVID-19.

But that could be re-visited by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education if infection rates in the community don’t get better.

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