McALLEN — The University Interscholastic League, the governing body of a majority of Texas high school athletics, updated its COVID-19 guidelines and policies with changes aimed both at summer strength and conditioning programs and the 2020-21 athletic school year as the state grapples with the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic and an escalating count of cases.

On July 1, the UIL recommended that schools throughout the state temporarily suspend summer strength and conditioning programs for all sports as well as any other on-campus, school-sponsored extracurricular activities as a precautionary measure aimed at preventing further community spread of the virus around the July 4 holiday weekend.

But, despite a flurry of new guidelines and protocols that will be enforced statewide, the UIL continues to stand firm with the athletic calendar for the forthcoming school year. It’s worth noting that the organization’s dates relating to fall sports remain unaffected, with all fall sports practices still set to begin Aug. 3 pending local health ordinances in counties and cities where applicable.

In a news release Wednesday, the UIL announced that summer strength and conditioning programs throughout Texas may resume as scheduled on Monday, July 13, with students being allowed to once again access locker rooms and, “engage in drills that involve one or more students on offense against one or more students on defense.”

The most significant update, however, is UIL’s Executive Order GA-29, which states that effective July 3, 2020, face coverings for all summer strength and conditioning programs as well as athletic in-season activities throughout the 2020-21 academic year will be required.

The UIL explicitly defined appropriate face masks and coverings as “non-medical grade disposable face masks, cloth face coverings (over the nose and mouth), or full-face shields to protect eyes, nose, and mouth,” according to the UIL’s executive order.

The organization also noted that in many cases face shields may function better than cloth face coverings both because of improved air circulation and an improved ability to see mouth movements for players trying to call plays.

The executive order further states: “All employees, parents, visitors and students 10 years of age or older must wear face coverings or face shields upon entry to an area where UIL activities are being conducted and when not actively exercising.”

Furthermore, schools and athletic programs must follow all state and local regulations within their respective jurisdictions in addition to complying with the newest UIL COVID-19 guidelines and policies.

The UIL also announced four listed exceptions for its face mask, shield and covering requirements: While a person is drinking or eating; While a person is in a pool, lake or body of water; When a group of coaches and/or student-athletes maintain at least 6 feet of social distance; Any person with a medical condition or disability that would prevent wearing a face covering.

On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency announced in a news release its comprehensive 2020-21 return-to-school guidelines, which include resources earmarked for tens of millions of pieces of personal protective equipment, free teacher training for each school system and reimbursement for all COVID-19 related expenses for every publicly funded school in the state.

Additionally, the TEA’s announcement mandates daily on campus learning be available to all students who choose to access it and several health procedures including, for example, all students, staff and visitors must be screened before being allowed on campus.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide executive order on July 2 that requires people to wear face masks or coverings over the nose and mouth in public places and buildings in counties with 20 or more active COVID-19 cases, which the TEA expanded to include all school buildings in the state.

The UIL will also adopt these regulations, requiring screening of all people before being allowed onto a given campus and requiring face masks or coverings inside all school buildings.

As it relates specifically to summer strength and conditioning activities, the UIL stated, “schools must require students, staff, and visitors to wear face coverings when entering and exiting facilities and practice areas, when not actively exercising, and as they get into positions that allow them to maintain safe distancing.”

The UIL also stated that all on-campus summer strength and conditioning activities must remain optional for student-athletes and encouraged schools to provide student-athletes guidance from working out at home or remotely through virtual or other means when appropriate.

Schools may keep attendance records of summer strength and conditioning workouts, but students will not be required or allowed to make up missed days.

The organization said schools will also be responsible for developing their own mitigation plans to allow student-athletes access to locker rooms on or after July 13, 2020, with students arriving at workouts in their full gear and returning home to shower and change before that date.

The UIL released several other additional health and safety protocols applying to all schools which include requiring hand sanitizer or hand washing stations in workout areas, forbidding the washing or sharing of towels and/or clothes on site, excluding the sharing of food and/or drinks and requiring the thorough disinfectant of all surfaces in workout areas both throughout and at the end of each day.

Schools should also devise their own entry and exit strategies that reduce the number of students, parents, coaches and/or visitors congregating in workout areas or parking lots where social distance cannot be maintained. If planning to provide transportation to summer workouts, schools should refer to the latest TEA transportation guidelines.

As it relates to individuals — including teachers, students, staff and any other campus visitors — who are confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms, those individuals will be required to stay at home and will not be allowed to return to campus until screened by the school district.

In order for an individual who had COVID-19 or displayed COVID-19 symptoms to return, the individual must meet the following criteria: At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared; Symptoms have improved; At least 72 hours have passed since recovery, or “the resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.”

The updated UIL guidelines also state that if an individual displays symptoms that “could be” COVID-19 who hasn’t been tested or evaluated by a medical professional, the school district shall assume that individual has COVID-19 and that individual may not return to campus until satisfying the three-factor return requirement listed above.

Additionally, the guidelines state that students, teachers, staff, or other campus visitors who have had close contact with someone who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19, will not be allowed on campus and should stay at home through the 14-day incubation period.

According to the UIL guidelines, exposure or close contact is defined as, “being directly exposed to infectious secretions (e.g. being coughed on while not wearing a mask or face shield), or being within 6 feet for a cumulative duration of 15 minutes, while not wearing a mask or face shield.”

The UIL also mandated a three-step process for identifying possible COVID-19 cases on campus: 1) Students report feeling a fever should be given an immediate temperature check to see if they are symptomatic; 2) Schools must immediately separate any student who displays COVID-19 symptoms until a parent or guardian can pick them up; 3) Schools should clean all the areas used by the individual showing COVID-19 symptoms as soon as feasible.

The organization also outlined a separate three-step process for responding to a lab-confirmed COVID-19 case on campus: 1) The school will be required to notify its local health department in accordance with federal, state and local laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); 2) Schools must close off areas heavily used by the individual with a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 until the non-porous surfaces in that area can be disinfected (or if three days have already passed); 3) Schools must notify all teachers, staff and families of students if a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified on campus, consistent with legal confidentiality agreements and school notification requirements for communicable diseases.

amcculloch@themonitor.com