Pennsylvania Backtracks on In-Game Mask Requirement for State's Football Teams

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The office of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a new order regarding face coverings this week, which included that people wear masks when “outdoors with others who are not members of a person’s household and unable to maintain sustained physical distance.”

This initially included athletes—both on and off the field—“if they cannot maintain sustained physical distance from persons outside of their household.”

“Coaches, athletes (including cheerleaders), and spectators must wear face coverings if they cannot maintain sustained physical distance from persons outside of their household. This includes while actively engaged in workouts, competition, and on the sidelines, in the dugout, etc.,” the state-issued FAQ reads.

The Pittsburgh Steelers said they were exempt from the statewide mandate; however, the governor's office responded on Thursday stating they weren't. 

The government backtracked on Friday, saying in updated guidance that football is an exception for wearing face coverings while actively playing in competition under Section 3 of the order.

“Using football as an example, wearing a mask in addition to a mouthguard and a helmet would likely create a medical issue for the athlete whether the athlete is a professional or youth player even if a previous medical issue was not present,” Lyndsay Kensinger, spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Wolf, wrote in a statement. “For example, the CDC says that ‘wearing a mask with these types of protective equipment is not safe if it makes it hard to breathe.’

“There are other sports where there are similar concerns that a mask would create a medical issue where one would otherwise not exist in an athlete. For example, it should also be obvious that wearing a mask while swimming presents an imminent health issue.”

The Steelers’ next home game is on Nov. 26 against the Baltimore Ravens, while the Philadelphia Eagles play at home against the Seattle Seahawks four nights later

The Eagles announced on Thursday a player tested positive for COVID-19, and that individual and close contacts are in self-isolation. 

The University of Pittsburgh announced Friday that its team and Virginia Tech will wear masks while playing at Heinz Field on Saturday. The school clarified that the masks will not be required to be pulled up while in play.

"To provide further clarity, Pitt football student-athletes will be outfitted with face coverings throughout the game. However, they will not be required to have the coverings pulled up while in the midst of play to prevent the impairment of breathing. Such usage of face coverings during competition would be in compliance with Section 3 of the Secretary of Health's Face Covering Order."

Penn State said in a statement early Friday afternoon that it was exempt from the in-game mask mandate because the order includes “limited exceptions for competition to be played without face coverings in the context of rigorous and stringent University and Big Ten testing, health and safety protocols.” 

However, an exemption for testing is not listed in the state’s mask mandate.