September 30, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer (photo by Joshua Ross)
Starting next Monday, the number of spectators allowed at sports and other outdoor events will increase under new state COVID-19 guidelines from the current maximum of 50.
But it's not that simple, according to Hingham High School Director of Athletics Jim Quatromoni. That's because it's not clear whether sports events fall into the outdoor performance venue category -- with an allowed spectator increase to 50 percent of the venue's capacity, with a maximum of 250 people -- or whether team sports fall under the "outdoor gatherings at event venues and in public settings" category.
In the second category, there will be a limit of 50 people in Step I communities -- those that have fallen into the highest-risk COVID-19 "red" zone at least once during the past three weeks, according to Quatromoni, and a limit of 100 people in lower-risk, Step II communities, meaning those that have not fallen into the "red" zone in any of the last three Massachusetts Department of Public Health weekly reports.
"I, along with Sen. Patrick O'Connor's office, and others are seeking clarification from Gov. Baker's press office on this question, because sports could fall under either category," Quatromoni told the Hingham Anchor. "Limiting the number of spectators to 100 is a whole different ballgame from 250, and if we can have the higher number, we would need to work with our school facilities staff and the Hingham Health Department to figure out how to do it safely. There are still a lot of questions to be answered."
Hingham is now in the moderate-risk "yellow" category, which is one zone away from "red."
Town Manager Tom Mayo mentioned the change in his COVID-19 report to the Selectmen last night.
Calling this exciting news, Selectmen Chair Mary Power said this change "will be wonderful for parents and students and for friends and other family members who enjoy watching our athletes compete."
"Sports events are a good opportunity to build community [spirit] and to show support, so staying out of the 'red' zone will give us a chance to celebrate our student athletes," Power said. "I hope that's the case when we see tomorrow's [Sept. 30] weekly results for Hingham."
We must all work together "if we’re going to prevent Hingham from becoming a 'red' community," Mayo said.
The Patriot League, which includes Hingham, decided to allocate the 50 spectator spots currently allowed to two parents for each team member, with no "away team" fans granted admittance. It's unclear at this time how the individual leagues will adjust their rules in accordance with the new guidelines.
"Everything relies on us all remaining vigilant and abiding by COVID-19 [health and safety protocols] to help avoid its spread," Quatromoni said. "We have to stay out of that 'red' zone."
Hingham has fluctuated among the different zones, including lower-risk "green" and the lowest-risk "gray" category, which means there were less than five reported cases within the last 14 days at that time.
The new statistics come out every Wednesday, so Hingham athletes -- and those who were once frequent spectators until Gov. Charlie Baker set a COVID-19 limit to a total of 50 per event -- are anxiously awaiting the results, hoping that Hingham has not fallen into that zone.
According to Mayo, as of last Wednesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 333 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hingham.
"That same data indicated that the percent of people in Hingham testing positive for COVID-19 during the previous two weeks was 1.72 percent, which was higher than the Plymouth County average of 1.42 percent and the state average of 0.85 percent during that same two-week period," Mayo said.
The Hingham Health Department issued a message last week explaining that unlike in the spring, the recent increase in cases in Hingham is not primarily attributable to nursing homes and residences for vulnerable populations.
"Instead, we are seeing an increase in transmission in the community at large and in particular, an increase in transmission between members of the same household," Mayo further stated.
At the state level, DPH is also reporting an increase in cases among Massachusetts residents ages 20-29.
"We remind everyone to please stay vigilant and to do your part. Now is not the time to let your guard down," Mayo said in a message to the community during his COVID-19 report last night. "Please continue to practice social distancing, wear a face covering in public, avoid large gatherings, and frequently wash your hands."
The Hingham Health Department continues to work with MDPH, state epidemiologists, and municipal and school leaders to monitor the COVID-19 situation in Hingham.