Vale High School football coach Jeff Aldred fires up his players after a practice in 2019. Aldred and the Vikings could be back on the gridiron within a short time after an announcement by Gov. Kate Brown Wednesday. (The Enterprise/File).

VALE – The Friday Night Lights could be returning to Malheur County sooner than expected.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that the Oregon Health Authority was prepared to allow outdoor sports even in counties with a high number of Covid cases.

“School sports play an important role in fostering students’ mental, emotional and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families and their communities,” Brown said.

In a press release from Brown’s office, outdoor contact sports – including football – will be “permitted to resume with health and safety protocols in place based on county risk level” this week.

There are several conditions to the resumption of outdoor contact sports.

First, the Oregon Health Authority must develop and issue new guidance which will allow counties in the low risk or moderate risk Covid category to begin practices and games.

For counties classified as extreme risk for Covid such as Malheur County, schools and other sports organizations can start outdoor contact sports with “additional protocols in place.”

That includes providing “on-site testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.”

Schools have at “at least limited in-person instruction occurring, with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year. Schools must also be in compliance with state guidance for COVID-19 testing.”

According to the press release, “those schools and sports organizations in High or Extreme Risk counties that do not opt in and implement protocols and requirements will continue to be limited to non-contact sports, practice and games. Indoor contact sports continue to be prohibited in all counties, due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

That would continue to block sports such as volleyball.

The governor’s announcement caught Vale School District Superintendent Alisha McBride by surprise and left her “with more questions than answers.”

“The guidance hasn’t been released yet and we’d have to evaluate the guidance to make sure we can meet the requirements,” said McBride.

McBride said he felt the governor’s announcement “provided some hope for the first time in a year.”

“But the other question I have, when I read it, does this change volleyball? Indoor contact sports, basketball and wrestling, continue to be prohibited in all counties. But is volleyball defined as a contact sport?” said McBride.

Jeff Aldred, Vale High School football coach, said the governor’s announcement was “pretty exciting.”

“We are going to start our first workout tonight and I know I am going to see a lot of happy faces,” said Aldred.

Aldred, though, said there are a lot of details still to be finalized before the first football cleat hits the grass.

“But for these seniors, this is a big deal,” said Aldred.

In the Vale School District, the elementary and middle schools are providing classroom instruction. At the high school, there is now limited in-person instruction – for students who acquired a recent negative Covid test – but the school is scheduled to reopen fully Monday after a Covid outbreak several weeks ago closed the facility.

In Nyssa, all schools are open for in-person instruction. Ontario opened limited in-person instruction – for elementary and middle school students – Wednesday. In-person instruction for Ontario High School students is slated to begin limited in-person instruction and/or hybrid instruction soon.

 News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

 Previous coverage:

Malheur County's high school sports year scrambled - football in the spring

First hospitalization because of virus reported in Malheur County

Spring prep sports season in Malheur County likely over

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