Walz administration won’t budge on youth sports mask mandate 

In a private Facebook group, dozens of parents shared reports of intense headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and fainting spells among student athletes. 

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Gov. Tim Walz. (Minnesota Governor's Office/YouTube)

Gov. Tim Walz’s administration won’t reverse course on its mask mandate for youth sports, despite reports of students collapsing during practices and seeking emergency medical treatment.

State Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, authored a letter to the governor earlier this month, asking him to reconsider his regulation requiring youth athletes to wear face masks during games and practices.

“We have heard from many youth coaches and parents in our districts who find this mask mandate unworkable and outright harmful to their players. Many students with asthma or other conditions, who otherwise would have participated in sports, will no longer be able to do so,” said the letter, which was co-signed by 29 Republican lawmakers.

According to the letter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and “other leading research institutions agree that face coverings during youth sporting events pose a potential health risk to participants and may cause more harm than the intended good.”

A recent survey from Let Them Play Minnesota supports this argument, finding that 14 kids collapsed, 84% experienced shortness of breath, and 11 sought emergency medical treatment during the first seven days of practice.

In a private Facebook group, dozens of parents shared reports of intense headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and fainting spells among student athletes.

“These kids really want and need the fun, stress relief, and sense of accomplishment that comes from playing sports and feel they are unfairly harmed by these regulations,” the letter concluded.

But Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm defended the mandate in a Friday letter. She began by pointing to the “9,457 confirmed COVID-19 cases which we believe are affiliated with sports activities.”

“This is an increase of 8,005 cases (over three and a half months) from the 1,452 that were reported through September 9. The number of people recommended to be quarantined has risen from 3,348 in September to 18,111 in late December,” said Malcolm.

“Further, because this number only counts the household contacts, and does not include contacts on the team or other social contacts, the number of people recommended to be quarantined is significantly underestimated. The science shows us that large groups, small spaces, and sports create serious transmission risks, particularly when people are exerting themselves without wearing face coverings,” she continued.

Malcolm said the mask mandate for sports was “developed in consultation with youth sports associations and with the advice of medical experts,” including the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

She acknowledged that the WHO advises against wearing a mask “when playing sports or doing physical activities, such as running, jumping or playing on the playground, so that it doesn’t compromise breathing.” However, the WHO “also advises that people always consult and abide by local authorities on recommended practices in their area.”

“In addition, the CDC does not preclude wearing masks, though they acknowledge it may be challenging to wear while playing, especially for younger children. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology notes there is no evidence that wearing a face covering makes asthma worse,” said Malcolm.

She said youth athletes should “take breaks” if they are feeling dizzy or lightheaded and change their face coverings if they become “saturated with moisture.” According to Let Them Play, some youth hockey players are experiencing instant saturation of their face masks.

The group is currently seeking to overturn the mask mandate for youth athletics through the courts.

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