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Attendance restrictions lifted…now it’s on us

State track meet will offer full capacity inside Drake Stadium

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Jenna Vonnahme of Pocahontas Area (left) and Humboldt's Lily Groat compete during the regular season.

When the sports world — like almost everything else in our society — came to a sudden halt last spring and the complexities of real-time global pandemic decision-making began to surface, I remember thinking to myself how difficult a return to normal was going to be on the other side of COVID-19.

Relatively speaking, the easy part was shutting everything down. At the time especially, it most certainly made sense until experts were able to study the complexities and behavior patterns of the disease.

The hard part was going to be getting everyone on the same page when we tried opening back up.

Well, here we are. Last month, the Drake Relays were held with strict guidelines and limited capacity. The Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union then announced two weeks ago that Drake University — the event host — would loosen restrictions some for the co-ed state meet, with 33 percent being the new cap for Drake Stadium seating.

On Tuesday, all attendance limits were completely removed in a collective effort to follow the updated guidance from the CDC, the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Polk County Health Department and Drake University.

This shows both the progress we’re making and the rapid-fire fluidity of the situation. But a transitional period — hopefully for good — naturally comes with plenty of disagreement and confusion.

Last July, I asked in a column that we respect each other’s physical space and personal attitudes toward COVID-19 right before thousands of fans visited Fort Dodge for the state softball tournament. We weren’t completely open for business at the time, but officials were trying to find a practical way to meet the general public halfway. For the most part — especially given the outdoor venue and occasional reminders to adhere to social-distancing guidelines — the plan worked despite the relative uncertainty of allowing a 2020 summer-sports season.

So here we are again. Not completely out of the woods — Iowa’s seven-day positive test average is at 253 cases, which is about half the daily count our state was experiencing during state softball week 10 months ago — but heading in the right direction and hopefully turning the corner. Over 40 percent of Iowa’s eligible residents are fully vaccinated as of Monday.

I’m not going to choose sides or play senseless politics here. It’s not up to someone like me to preach the rights or wrongs of individual attitudes and behavior at this point. As I said last summer, being rewarded the freedom of a full state event should be motivation enough to simply be mindful of the people around you this week in Des Moines.

We’re all in different places, phases and mindsets with the pandemic as it stands today — maybe more so than ever before. I would say that is very natural and common, given our current coordinates. There is hope and healing. But there are also physical and emotional scars. Thousands of loved ones have been lost to the disease, and tens of thousands of people’s lives were forever changed — either by COVID-19 itself, or the impact it had on friends and family members.

We are lucky to be talking state track this week, and seeing Drake Stadium filled with fans will certainly be a sight for sore eyes. Let’s appreciate how far we’ve come, but also, be cognizant of both the past and the future. We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting, and yet, there is still work to be done.

I’m hoping that as restrictions are lifted and some form of pre-pandemic normalcy begins to take shape, we move forward with grace and empathy. In the famous words of Wendy Mass: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

State track will be a perfect litmus test as we stand side-by-side, together again.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt

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