Gov. Bill Lee announced on Thursday that his administration would be lifting restrictions on youth sporting events effective Monday, Feb. 1, allowing for more flexibility in the participation and attendance of youth sporting events across the state.
On Dec. 20, during a time when Tennessee was experiencing the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the nation, Lee issued an executive order limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, while also placing restrictions on youth sporting events.
Those restrictions mandated that schools adhere to COVID-19-related guidance outlined by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA), which included severely limiting the attendance of youth sporting events.
Last week on Jan. 20, Lee allowed the restrictions on indoor gatherings to expire, but extended the limitations on youth sporting events until Feb. 27.
It was on Thursday, Jan. 28, that Lee said he planned to lift those restrictions. It will go into effect on Feb. 1.
The TSSAA confirmed the moves from the governor's office on Thursday as well. It will require schools to continue limiting capacity with encouragement to cut attendance at sporting events to a third or fourth of normal crowd side depending on the venue.
Essentially, the TSSAA will still require the same guidelines it adopted this past summer for fall athletics.
Some control is left to individual communities as well.
"Member schools must facilitate compliance with any applicable state or local order limiting gathering sizes for participation in public events," a release from the TSSAA read.
"In consultation with local health providers, member schools in areas experiencing high virus transmission should consider further limitations on attendance (e.g., family members only, or no spectators). Limit informal gathering in areas where social distancing cannot be maintained."
Mask requirements and temperature checks will still be necessities for any attendance at prep sporting events in the state, too.
“We’re proud that our member schools have been taking steps to follow the Governor’s orders and limit the spread of the virus,” said Bernard Childress, Executive Director of TSSAA, in a release. “It is vitally important that we continue to be smart and safe in our activities, wear a mask, wash our hands and practice social distancing at every athletic contest.”
Cheerleaders and members of the general public, per the TSSAA, will be allowed to return with these guidelines lifted.
With spring sports around the corner, the TSSAA's practice requirements and restrictions on jamborees and preseason games will still hold, along with all the requirements above, for now.
Williamson County Schools had implemented its own winter sports attendance policy prior to the state's order, limiting ticketing to four attendees per athletic participant. It is unknown at this time if the county will continue with that plan.
Lee cites declining COVID-19 cases as reason for lifting restrictions
“Tennessee's COVID-19 numbers continue to rapidly improve with almost a 60 percent decline in cases and nearly a 40 percent decline in hospitalizations because of the efforts of Tennesseans to wear masks, wash hands and limit gatherings," Lee said on Thursday.
"When case counts were at their highest, we placed temporary, targeted restrictions on indoor school sporting events. The data now reflects rapidly falling numbers and because of that data, we are ending the recent additional restrictions around who can participate in or attend indoor school sporting events."
In a video announcement, Lee stated that there will be "no further restrictions on who can attend or participate in school sporting events," but cautioned that the "pandemic is not over," urging Tennesseans to "continue to be smart," to "wear a mask," and engage in social distancing.
"The guidance and rules of local education agencies and the TSSAA remain in place, but Executive Order 74 will be suspended effective Monday, Feb. 1," Lee's statement continued. "I encourage Tennesseans to keep up their responsible personal choices as we work towards a COVID-free Tennessee.”