The Orange County Schools Board of Education voted against a vaccine requirement for students involved in high-risk sports at its Monday meeting.
Guidance by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the Orange County Health Department showed that sports such as football, basketball, wrestling and competitive cheerleading are at high risk for transmission of COVID-19.
The Orange County Health Department recommended that these athletic activities be halted immediately until Sept. 30 to slow the spread of the virus. The department also encouraged vaccinations for all eligible student-athletes.
However, the board voted not to shut down those sports for two weeks, instead voting to limit the amount of guests per student-athlete to two per event and prohibit the sale of concessions at games.
Masks are required both on and off the field of play for athletes in high-risk sports. For sports that are considered medium- or low-risk, eligible student-athletes have to show proof of vaccination or participate in biweekly tests using the RT-PCR test, according to recommendations from Orange County Schools.
Community members voiced concerns about the safety regulations for athletic activities during the meeting.
Anthony Cecil, a coach at Gravelly Hill Middle School, said he was wary of the idea of a vaccine mandate for athletic activities.
“I’m also concerned about the board making vaccines mandatory for all student-athletes because we are going to lose some athletes,” he said.
The board presented a health and safety athletic report, which included the percentage of vaccinated athletes from the district's high schools as of Sept. 10:
- Football: 54 percent
- Cheerleading: 52 percent
- Cross country: 83 percent
- Soccer: 73 percent
- Volleyball: 60 percent
- Tennis: 83 percent
Will Atherton, a member of the Orange County Board of Education, said he didn't support temporarily shutting down football, but he did support safety protocols for events.
“I do support, though, the fans, masking, the spacing and addressing those concerns that have been brought up," Atherton said.
Board member Carrie Doyle also said she did not see a reason to temporarily shut down football, but she understands the importance of vaccines.
“I’m not seeing the data that football in of itself has created extra COVID risks for our students,” Doyle said. “But on the other hand, I do understand that in the end, it's really vaccines that protect us from large numbers of students having to quarantine.”
All of the board members said the high transmission rate of the delta variant — especially during high-risk sports — made measures like these necessary at school athletic events.