SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced Friday that public health directives related to the COVID-19 pandemic have effectively been switched to guidelines, meaning they’re no longer enforceable as a rule. This means local high school sporting events can start allowing more fans to attend, and a Springdale-based athletic director said it shows protective restrictions have worked.
Jeff Conaway, Shiloh Christian’s athletic director and head football coach, said Saints fans have followed the rules laid out during sporting events. That limited the spread of COVID-19 and allowed seasons to continue, he said.
“It’s every other row they’re able to sit in, and if they’re not in family groups, it’s six feet apart,” Conaway said. “The reward is what was announced today.”
Hutchinson said all public health directives are now guidelines. While the Arkansas Dept. of Health still posts recommendations on how high school sporting events should be conducted, they’re no longer enforceable, so schools can allow as many fans as they want.
“I do not expect to see a change in behavior,” Hutchinson said, adding that administrators now know the public education associated with protecting visitors from the virus.
Hutchinson said relatively-low COVID-19 numbers from the past few weeks went into the decision to lift restrictions.
College sports could also bring in more fans. In a statement, Razorback Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said this could happen in a matter of weeks.
“We are encouraged by the update shared by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson today regarding the progress our state has made related to vaccinations and the declining number of new COVID cases. We will continue to work with the Arkansas Department of Health to determine what adjustments may be made to our existing event plans based on today’s announcement. In an effort to maintain the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans, it will be important that we continue to wear masks and adhere to other health guidelines. We are cautiously optimistic that by working together we will be able welcome more Razorback fans to our sporting events in the weeks to come.”Hunter Yurachek, Razorback Athletic Director
Conaway said even when more fans are allowed in, some COVID-19 protocols will still be in place.
“I don’t necessarily think all of those restrictions will go away,” Conaway said. “I think it’ll be wise to see how these next few months go.”
Conaway said basketball season’s over, so Shiloh Christian fans will see most of these changes will happen in spring sports like baseball and soccer.
“Our outdoor sports, we feel like we can create and maintain healthy environments and enjoy high school sports again,” Conaway said.