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Gov. Jim Justice’s decision to relax some COVID-19 restrictions will allow more fans to attend winter sports games at state high schools and middle schools starting next month, though exact numbers will vary from site to site.

Bernie Dolan, the executive director of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, said the new guidelines for attendance will not include a percentage of seating capacity, as some previous plans have done.

“Honestly, when you put a percentage on it,’’ Dolan said, “it seems to confuse people, and gyms are so unique as opposed to football stadiums. Basically, what we directed to them is that as long as you can social distance and wear a mask, that would limit how many your facility will hold.

“Some of the smaller gyms, (attendance) will not increase a lot, but some of the bigger gyms I’d expect to have their attendance increase significantly.’’

The SSAC emailed the following statement to member high schools and middle schools Friday afternoon regarding Justice’s announcement of statewide policy changes:

“Each county/school will determine the maximum number of spectators allowed in their indoor facilities based on the requirements that social distancing be maintained and spectators wear face coverings. It is recommended that parents and family members of the student athletes and coaches (both home and visiting teams) be given first priority.’’

Previously, for most fall and winter sports, attendance was limited to just parents, grandparents and household members. Winter sports are set to open across the state on March 3 with girls basketball, swimming, wrestling and cheerleading. Boys basketball is scheduled to start March 5.

Dolan expects home teams will decide how many visiting team fans will be permitted to attend — if any — outside of parents, grandparents and household members. He thinks some schools might even sell tickets at the gate, which was not permitted at most fall sports.

“If schools can figure out a way to do it and keep people socially distanced,’’ Dolan said, “that’s OK, too.’’

Dolan said the SSAC will rely on its member schools to enforce the regulations that have been established.

“There’s no way for us to manage it for every school and every county,’’ Dolan said. “Maybe somebody at the local health department might have a say in whether their plan is appropriate.

“The only other option is that the governor has given us this leeway — if the schools take advantage of it. It they don’t follow the guidelines, he could just as easily take these guidelines away.’’

Dolan hopes that games will continue to be streamed because “even though they’re allowed to go, a lot of people don’t want to be near big crowds or any crowds at all.’’

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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