Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s new restrictions on business and social gatherings in place because of a third surge of the first wave of the coronavirus have serious consequences for those in the high school community as well.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association updated its return-to-play guidelines Tuesday, and because of the new restrictions, all indoor activities have been stopped for a four-week period. That period ends Dec. 18, when the governor will review these restrictions.

The latest guidance released Sunday states all indoor facilities are closed, all indoor activities, training, practice, and all contests and games are not allowed. The only exception is for individual water sports, such as swimming and diving. Those are allowed in indoor or outdoor pools, but it has to be in accordance with the Department of Health water recreation guidelines. The caveat: no meets or competitions are allowed.

Face masks and coverings no longer are optional at any risk level, they are mandatory, no matter the county or the level, for participants, coaches, trainers, managers, spotters or any other paid volunteers.

Also, teams traveling across the border are subject to quaranting for a 14-day period upon returning to the Evergreen State.

So what does that mean for our area high schools?

1) Teams technically still can practice.

Under the previous guidelines, teams could practice in pods of five to six with individualized coaching. But because indoor gatherings can only be constituted of people from just one household, it is not feasible to even be able to practice, let alone have any competitions. They only can practice outdoors.

However, with colder weather and the onset of winter conditions impacting the area, it doesn’t seem like there will be any appetite to conduct any events outdoors. That’s mainly the reason why there probably will not be any activities.

2) Why can colleges still compete but not the high schools?

In this case, it’s all about money. The two biggest colleges in the state, the University of Washington and Washington State University, are affiliated with the Pac-12 Conference. That conference has a stringent testing plan in which athletes are tested multiple times per week. Both schools have the money to be able to afford to do that, albeit not very easily, but are also supplemented by the Pac-12 with the funds to do it.

It’s a different ballgame with the high schools, where there is no funding coming from the WIAA to be able to support testing. The WIAA already is facing a budget crunch, and typically leaves things of this nature up to the hands of the individual school districts and health departments. Many of these school districts can’t afford extra expenses at this point, so it’s not as easy to test student-athletes. It’s mainly left up to the individual student-athlete and their families to go get tested on their own. Then there’s contact tracing, and the monetary issues continue to add up.

3) What’s next?

The hope originally was to begin education-based athletic activity Dec. 28, when the WIAA’s modified sports season calendar that was released at the end of July had the sports of boys’ and girls’ basketball, bowling, swimming and diving, gymnastics, cheerleading and wrestling set to start.

However, because of this four-week shutdown, it almost seems impossible that teams could be able to restart full practices and be ready to go just 10 days later.

Also, most of the state already was unable to meet the WIAA’s guidelines set forth (with some exceptions in our area) in its October return-to-play update that classified sports in three different risk categories and had benchmarks counties had to fall under.

For example, for football, basketball and wrestling, there must be fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 people during a 14-day period and the positivity rate must be less than 5 percent. In other words, there must be a low risk of transmission in order to safely conduct competitions.

The bottom line is we could be heading for a long, cold, dark winter in our gymnasiums in Washington.

Donn Walden may be reached at (208) 848-2258, dwalden@lmtribune.com, or on Twitter at @waldo9939.

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