While high schools in Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties had their fall sports seasons interrupted or cut short due to a change in the state’s county color-coded designations for COVID-19, the highway the winter campaign travels has seen one such roadblock removed.

In a memo sent by the Maine Principals’ Association, which governs member high schools' athletic programs, on Wednesday, Jan. 20, the "yellow" designation will no longer apply to school-based activities, only for advisory to in-person learning.

Thus, schools that are within counties with "yellow" designations — in this instance, York, Androscoggin, Cumberland and Oxford — will be able to hold practices, and, eventually, athletic games.

The state's other 12 counties, which include the Midcoast's Knox, Waldo and Lincoln, currently have "green" designation.

Categorization as “red” suggests a county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread. Categorization as “yellow” suggests the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread, while categorization as “green” suggests a county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread.

Previously, counties that went from a "green" to "yellow" designation would be forced to suspend athletic activities for a minimum of 14 days.

Locally, the winter high school sports seasons, which include basketball, swimming, skiing and ice hockey (wrestling may come in late-February), have gone off without a hitch, for the most part.

In mid-October, toward the end of the pandemic-altered high school fall sports season, Waldo County was given a "yellow" designation, which effectively canceled the remainder of that sport season for Belfast Area, Mount View and Searsport District high schools.

The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B cross-country championships, scheduled for Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, also were forced to change the venue for that race.

In early November, Knox County also changed to "yellow" designation, which meant cross-country runners that qualified for the state championships from Camden Hills Regional and Oceanside high schools were not allowed to attend the event (the state cross-country championships were canceled days later).

Now, according to the MPA, schools with a "yellow" designation may resume high school sports. There are still no fans/spectators allowed to attend games with the state’s mandate of no more than 50 people at school's indoor venue and social distancing protocols remain in place.

“After meeting with the state health and education agencies, a change has been made regarding the color coding currently being used by schools,” said the MPA in the press release. “The color-coding system will be used as advisory to in-person learning, but will no longer apply to school-based activities. If it is deemed safe to do so by the local administration, teams may begin practicing, following the established sport-specific return-to-play guidelines. Students have been inactive for a considerable amount of time; therefore, each school must establish an acclimatization period in which athletes recondition before playing in competitive games. The MPA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee feels this decision would be best left up to the individual schools to develop their reconditioning plan rather than recommending a mandatory five- or 10-day period.”

The statement went on to state: “We all know the key role that education-based activities play in the physical and emotional well-being of our students.”

“We as associations promote any opportunity that we can to find ways to engage kids in these school-based programs, especially when we know that many of them are struggling with their remote learning. When looking at these activities it is important to note that vocal and instrumental music, as well as other performing arts activities, must be included in these conversations. All these activities play an integral role in the lives of many of our children."