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COVID Rules for Student-Athletes Looser This Year, But Unvaccinated Players Must Test to Play

By Tom Hasslinger
July 28, 2022, 4:00 PM HST
* Updated July 28, 4:06 PM
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Athletes looking to participate this year in school sports won’t have to vaccinate in order to be allowed to play – but if they don’t, they’ll have to test twice a week to prove their not COVID-positive.

The requirement is a change from last year, which mandated players be up-to-date on their immunization shots in order to take the field. It’s less stringent in that regard, as case counts have dropped considerably compared to a year ago, and is a number of eased regulations the Hawai‘i Department of Education has implemented this school year compared to the pandemic days.

On the Big Island, the 2022-23 school year for students begins Monday, Aug. 1. The fall sports season for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, BIIF, began July 18.

“The widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, high levels of infection-induced and
vaccine-induced immunity, increased access to testing, and effective treatments have allowed an adapted approach to COVID-19 prevention and mitigation,” the HDOE stated in its protocols for the upcoming year. “All guidance, including this document, is subject to change as new information regarding COVID-19 becomes available.”

Among the biggest changes for students this year compared to last year is indoor and outdoor mask-wearing is optional.

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For student-athletes, those who show proof of full vaccination are cleared to play immediately. Full vaccination includes the CDC recommendations for their age groups, which includes boosters in addition to their primary doses for those 6 years old and up.

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Those who choose not to vaccinate must test twice a week utilizing a test taken through a CLIA-certified laboratory or under an approved CLIA Certificate of Waiver or a home-based
test that is authorized for use by the FDA to participate in athletic activities, the department stated.

“There will be no medical or religious exemption to these requirements for student voluntary participation in athletics,” HDOT stated.

Brad Uemoto, Konawaena head football coach, saw firsthand what COVID and COVID rules did to team turnout. COVID was a hurdle for many student-athletes as it deterred a lot of kids from coming out last year.

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Last year, Uemoto said kids had to be vaccinated to play or get approved for an exemption. Even if approved, the coach said the players were still required to test twice a week.

Participation was so low last year that Konawaena didn’t have enough players for a junior varsity team.

This year, the DOE dropped the exemption, however, student-athletes are still required to test twice a week.

However, while testing sites were readily accessible last year, most now have closed. Uemoto said the testing has become an on-campus test.

“Except for the exemption nothing really has changed,” Uemoto said. “We try to remind our kids to take precautions. Really, it’s their season to lose.”

If a player does come down with COVID they are required to follow a five-day schedule of steps before returning to the field.

Reporter Tiffany DeMasters contributed to this report.

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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