Will student-athletes need to mask up to play? Not if they are vaccinated says AIA

Pima’s Jacob Brimhall, right, alters the shot of Thatcher’s Bradley Curtis. Pima held on to win Thatcher’s home opener last year, 59-53. Back then, everyone had to wear masks to participate. What will the new school year bring for fall sports?

By Jon Johnson


PHOENIX – In what will surely be a discussed move, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) released an updated recommended guidelines for returning to athletic activity on Monday and advised that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing masks.

The guidelines don’t outright mention that masks will be necessary for unvaccinated players, however, under its maintaining healthy environments protocol, section c states that it encourages “continued mitigation measures in all members, but especially unvaccinated members” to continue wearing cloth face coverings. 

Last season, the AIA initially canceled its winter sports season before allowing the sports to take place with the caveat that athletes, coaches, referees, and those in attendance wear face coverings at all times. 

The AIA amended its order regarding masks during the basketball playoffs and continued into spring sports where the athletes no longer had to wear them during competition but all others had to continue wearing masks as well as athletes when not actively playing or in the arena of competition. 

As part of the pre-participation guidelines, all AIA athletes are required to have a pre-participation sports physical for the 2021-2022 season dated on or after March 1, 2021. That is normal, however, this year a player’s COVID-19 vaccination status is required to be documented on the physical form, and those who are vaccinated are expected to upload to copy their vaccination card to the physical form.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control recommended K-12 students, staff, and visitors who live in areas where COVID-19 transmission is high to wear face coverings while attending school. Graham County is currently listed as having “moderate” transmission. The county of more than 38,000 currently has an “active” case total of 55, as of Monday. 

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey – who previously enacted mask requirements for K-12 schools and then rescinded them in April – signed an executive order in June that informed Arizona’s public universities and community college’s that students “cannot be mandated to take the COVID-19 vaccine or submit COVID-19 vaccination documents. Students also cannot be mandated to be tested or wear masks in order to participate in learning.” 

Ducey’s executive order pertains only to Arizona’s public universities and community colleges. 

Currently, the only vaccine with approval for juveniles ages 12-15 is the Pfizer vaccine, which is available for free at the Safeway pharmacy in Thatcher. However, Graham County Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Brian Douglas told the Gila Herald that he believes the Moderna vaccine which the health department administers was likely to obtain FDA approval for use in those ages 12 and up. Additionally, both Pfizer and Moderna have reportedly expanded their vaccine studies in children ages 5 to 11.