The North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced that all athletes practicing or competing indoors have to wear a mask because of the continuing upward trend of new COVID-19 cases in the state.

Commissioner Que Tucker made the announcement in a Zoom video conference with the media, and she said the mandate’s goal is to keep games going as the virus continues to spread unchecked.

Tucker said there are several high school programs across the state that are dealing with infections and quarantines, which led her to implement the mask mandate.

“We feel this is a necessary step and a safe step to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our programs,” Tucker said. “It is my personal belief that had we not taken the step to do something, our ability to be able to play volleyball and complete a season perhaps would not be possible.”

Tucker said the mask mandate applies to all sports that take place indoors, including basketball and wrestling. If football, for example, has to move practice indoors because of weather, masks will be required in that case as well.

As of now, Tucker said, the NCHSAA hasn’t made any changes to the sports calendar it published on Aug. 12, but she offered the warning that everything could change quickly.

“Because the metrics are not going in the right direction, because the cases are continuing to rise, we know everything is subject to change,” she said. “We’re taking it one day at a time, and if we get the word that we have to do something different, then we will.”

Tucker said she speaks at least once a month with officials from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and she said the association is working within the guidelines set by the DHHS. State officials have said they will let data drive their decisions on how to slow and eventually stop the virus’ spread, and Tucker said the recent spike in cases led to the decision to require face coverings.

She also said the association and the schools need the backing of parents in order to help keep sports viable as the pandemic continues. It wasn’t in the original plan to have athletes wear masks indoors, but recent events required a mid-game adjustment, she said.

“We’re changing course in terms of some of the tactics we’re using, such as the mask mandate,” she said. “This ought not be hard for us who have been involved with athletics for many years. We just have to change our strategy, commit to it and be willing to do that. It certainly is good when our parents can support that and will support their young people as we move forward, and we’re looking for that kind of support.”