Youth sports and high school athletics have been allowed to resume with practices starting on Jan. 4, but just how the mask mandate for student athletes got approved by our top state public health officials is beyond me and is causing yet another shaking my head moment.

All sports, with the exception of wrestling, swimming, diving, gymnastics, and cheerleading, are required to wear facemasks during practice and competition. Officials cite masks as possible choking hazards for the cause of these sports’ omission.

But did I mention that college athletes and, of course, professional athletes, are exempt of this mandate? I am happy for my son who will go back to his interrupted college football season mask-free this spring, but had he just been a couple years younger, he would be required to wear one.

Sense has seemed to allude all of us, or at least the ones calling the shots in our state.

In all fairness, these officials point to the use of masks for high school students in western Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina. But as the old adage goes, if your friend jumps off a bridge, should you?

Those who propose the concept that facemasks don’t prohibit oxygen levels or trap carbon dioxide during exhalation cite a study done on 15 physicians with no known health issues and 15 veterans with COPD. Blood oxygen carbon dioxide levels were taken before and after a six-minute walking exercise, according to an Oct. 2, 2020 article titled “Face masks have negligible negative effect on CO2 and O2 levels” published in Medical News Today. No significant changes occurred, the study concluded.

But does this study translate to young people performing intense aerobic activity? The World Health Organization seems to counter the study with their guidance stating that “even when you’re in an area of COVID-19 transmission, masks should not be worn during vigorous physical activity because of the risk of reducing your breathing capacity.” And the CDC has stated that athletes shouldn’t wear masks if it causes difficulty breathing.

A WFMY News 2 article highlighted students “getting used to” wearing masks during strenuous activity. One student, Carolina Wyrick, was quoted saying, “The first practice, we were all hands on our knees begging for an air break.”

Another student, Je’Bria Fullwood, was quoted saying, “Sucking in air, sucking in wind, breathing it in the mask at the same time, it was pretty difficult.”

Some student athletes at a school near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were asked about their experience wearing masks during intense physical activity.

One student basketball player, Isabella Klenk, said that it affected her performance negatively and that masks make it harder to breathe when running up and down the court.

James Couch, a soccer player and cross-country runner, said, “I think that masks have had a huge impact on soccer, and they have affected my way of playing the sport. I cannot get enough oxygen into my lungs, which makes me feel like I am about to pass out.”

A soccer player with asthma, Trenton Heasley, also had difficulty breathing while wearing a mask, stating, “I played half an indoor game with a mask for 25 minutes and wasn’t able to catch my breath until several minutes after the game.”

Is this the kind of experiment we really want to perform on our children? Having them “get used to” wearing masks during sports? If I was a parent of a high school athlete, I would lobby for Gov. Walz to put on a mask and attempt to do killers in the poorly circulated air of a school gym or the dank air of a hockey arena.

Traci LeBrun is the editor of the Messenger.

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