Just Before High School Football Starts, Limits Shift Just Before High School Football Starts, Limits Shift

Move comes just before the kickoff for a late-winter high school football season.

RICHMOND-When high school football kicks off Feb. 22 in Virginia, there will be parents in the stands. In fact, quite a few people will be allowed to watch, as Gov. Ralph Northam announced a slight change in spectator limits Wednesday. 

“Starting this Monday, we’ll expand the number of spectators allowed at outdoor sport events up to 250,” Northam said, “provided everyone maintains their social distancing.” 

The specific rule allows for either 30% of the facility’s capacity or 250 people, whichever is smaller. Indoor events remain at a 25 spectator limit.

A Big Shift

 The outdoor change is a big step up from the previous rules, which only allowed two guests per player for outdoor sports. It covers the six-game high school football season and all other fall sports that were moved due to the pandemic, as well as other outdoor events. Under the rule, spectators have to wear face masks at all times and stay 10 feet away from other groups.

Earlier this month, several state lawmakers sent a letter to Northam, asking for a change in spectator limits for high school events. Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City), Sen. Todd Pillion (R-Abingdon) and Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Washington) also requested a change in how band members and cheerleaders are viewed. Under the previous restrictions, they fell under the spectator limits. Since only two guests per player were allowed, that prevented cheerleaders and band members from taking part in the season.

“No one is advocating for packed gyms, but perhaps some due consideration to re-evaluating the arbitrary thresholds currently in place,” the letter stated. 

This also comes as schools release plans to return to in-person learning across the state. Northam has asked school districts to deliver in-person learning plans by March 15.  

Now that learning plan can take several forms. It could simply be regular schedule for the rest of the spring semester. It might be extending the spring semester through June or offering an expanded version of summer school. Adding hours to the current school day is also an option.

RELATED: Virginia Schools Given Deadline to Finalize Reopening Plans

What About Other Events? 

Northam also said that this is the first step toward lifting restrictions for things like NASCAR races and minor league baseball as well. 

“We’re talking to the owners and managers of these venues, sharing our ideas,” Northam said. 

He added that state officials understand things need to happen ahead of time. This can’t just change the day before an event, since ticket sales are impacted. Northam said he hoped to be able to announce something definite next week. Currently, they’re looking at the possibility of focusing on percentage capacity instead of a fixed number. That means a fixed percentage, say 30% of the total capacity could come watch a Squirrels game at The Diamond. But a final decision on that hasn’t been made. 

As more people get vaccinated and the COVID-19 case numbers keep dropping, other restrictions will also be lifted, Northam said. 

“We want to get back to our near normal lives that we had before COVID-19, but we want to do it safely,” he added. 

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at brian@couriernewsroom.com.