MONTPELIER — Starting Saturday, athletes in Vermont's K-12 schools will begin playing games again.
"We wanted to give our student athletes an extra weekend for what has already been a shortened season," Education Secretary Dan French said at the governor's twice weekly news conference about the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Interscholastic competitions previously were anticipated to begin Sept. 28. Masking up will be required of players, coaches, officials and spectators.
Local athletes are ready to get back to game competition for the first time in over six months.
"From student-athletes, to coaches, to community members and parents, everyone is just ecstatic right now," said Mount Anthony athletic director Ashley Hoyt.
"It's been a great afternoon, tons of excitement," said Hoyt. "Everyone's literally jumping up and down and just so happy."
The question of winter sports will be taken up shortly with guidance likely coming out in October, French said.
"The issues of indoor activities are more significant relative to our health considerations," he said.
The Vermont Principals Association is targeting Oct. 15 to release their guidance on the winter sports season.
Another component of the gradual reopening plan for schools includes allowing schools to consider whether to use common areas, such as gyms and dining areas, with social distancing and cleaning measures.
Schools also will have more flexibility when it comes to grouping students. Strict adherence to "pods" - the sets of students established to limit the potential exposure to the virus - will not be required.
The state will continue to monitor cases and will not hesitate to scale back reopening efforts, French said.
"Vermont has the best conditions in the country based on our willingness to work together and do what's best to keep us safe," he said, "but we cannot let our guard down."
French said the state recorded a small number of cases in schools but no transmission of the virus has been linked to schools. Four cases are tied to K-12 schools, according to the data.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said as the United States prepares to have its 200,000th death attributed to the virus; Vermont had 58 as of Monday and none within the past 56 days. The state recorded 1,721 cases altogether as of Monday and 15 in the past four days.
On Friday, Gov. Phil Scott announced updates to guidance on bar seating and lifted lodging restrictions. Restaurants and bars can use bar seating if patrons are 6 feet apart, and a partition stands between patrons and staff. Lodging establishments can now book all available rooms.
Gov. Phil Scott said modeling that tells whether out-of-state state areas need to follow quarantine requirements will be updated every Tuesday instead of Fridays to allow more time for planning trips and guest stays.
"But again, all of the safety protocols and requirements will remain in place," he said.
Capacity requirements in dining or event spaces has not changed. Only 50 percent of such spaces can be occupied for now.
Some people feel the state is moving too fast in reopening the economy and others believe it is too slow, Scott said.
"I get it," he said. "We've all been living with so much uncertainty since March. Everything about our lives has been turned upside down. As we wait for a vaccine, we don't know how long we're going to be in this position."
Scott said decisions at the state level are being made based on data, science and expertise. He plans to continue taking that approach and holding twice weekly news conferences to explain those choices.
Banner sports reporter Michael Mawson contributed to this story
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.