Plenty of confusion has emerged in connection with new measures in Pennsylvania aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Any lingering confusion needs to be fully resolved before Thanksgiving night, when the Steelers host the Ravens.
The first major test case comes on Saturday at Heinz Field, when the Pitt Panthers host Virginia Tech.
At one point, Pitt interpreted the mask mandate to require players to actually wear face coverings during the game. As of Friday afternoon, the prevailing interpretation became that players will be given face coverings, but that they will not be required to wear them during the game itself.
“To provide further clarity, Pitt football student-athletes will be outfitted with face coverings throughout the game,” Pitt said in a statement, via ESPN.com. “However, they will not be required to have the coverings pulled up while in the midst of play to prevent the impairment of breathing. Such usage of face coverings during competition would be in compliance with Section 3 of the Secretary of Health’s Face Covering Order.”
The confusion came from a Tuesday order from the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, which provides that “coaches, athletes, and spectators must wear face coverings while actively engaged in workouts and competition as well as when on the sidelines, in the dugout etc. unless they meet an exception in the Face Covering Order.”
Section 3, as noted in the Pitt statement, “allows an individual to remove their mask if wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability.”
Apparently, it’s regarded as a universal medical truth that football players wearing face coverings while playing would “cause a medical condition.” But would it? Or would it simply impair performance without actually making the player sick?
It seems like the powers-that-be have applied a creative interpretation to the exception. It remains to be seen whether the authorities insist on compliance with the order and the exceptions as written, or whether the practical application will match an interpretation that conflicts with the literal language of the order.
It’s a situation that bears watching, given that Pennsylvania will host two NFL games within the next 10 days, both of which are due to be played in prime time. Week 12 concludes with the Eagles hosting the Seahawks.