Covid-19 off-seasons: how are they going and where do we go from here?

I just attended my first off-season since Covid, and it got me thinking a lot about off-seasons and how they’ve been going with Covid. There’s definitely been a variety of protocols in place for different regions and events, and so I’m super curious how it’s gone so far. So my main questions.

  • Have you been to an off-season?
  • What Covid-19 safety protocols were in place at the event?
  • What was the Covid situation like in your area at the time of the event?
  • Did you feel safe at the event?
  • What protocols would you suggest for someone else looking to host an event?
  • Did any cases result from the event to the best of your knowledge?

I’ll start with Battlecry, the event I attended. The vaccination rate in New England is much higher than the national average, which was definitely a cause for comfort. Vaccines weren’t required for participants, but highly encouraged, and all volunteers had to be vaccinated. Masks were also required for the entire event, regardless of vaccination status. Teams were also limited to 10 members per team, and there were only 24 teams at the event. I would have personally felt slightly more comfortable with on site temperature checks and either vaccine or negative test requirements, but the lack of them wasn’t a deal breaker by any means.

Overall cases in the region were fairly manageable. There was an outbreak at the Cape in MA, but I didn’t feel as though it was a threat to the event or attendees. As the event just happened, I don’t know if anyone carried or caught Covid, and will be updating this if I hear anything, but overall felt very comfortable and excited to play with robots again. With vaccines being readily available to the entirety of the FRC age group, that risk vs reward calculator is definitely leaning off-season for me, at least in our region, but I recognize Delta could end up changing that rather quickly. How did all of your off-seasons go?

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Yes (FINite Recharge Offseason Event in Indiana)
FIN COVID-19 Procedure (masks on, temp checks upon arrival, 10 people per team*)
Low percentage of new cases.
Yes, I felt safe.
Similar protocols (limited participants, no external spectators, temperature checks, contact tracing)
Not to my knowledge.

*number increases if you entered multiple teams

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  • Yes, the Texas Cup!
  • Temperature checks were required, but beyond that many (maybe 1/4 to 1/2) of team members/volunteers/etc were maskless, with no suggestion that I remember seeing to wear one, and I don’t remember having to show any proof of having taken the vaccine or having a negative test.
    (Note, masks legally couldn’t be required to my knowledge?)
  • The Texas Cup took place from June 16-18, during which Texas had a relatively ‘flat’ curve and some of the lowest infection rates since the pandemic began. (Although those numbers have since rapidly increased again)
  • I definitely was worried about catching it at all times, my mask stayed on as much as I realistically could keep it on, and the venue was MASSIVE with a huge ceiling and constant airflow. The size of the venue definitely made me feel better, but being in the pits with another team, in the cue, or in the crowd definitely brought up what I like to call my 'Rona anxiety. Fortunately, to my knowledge, no one on our team caught a case and we are all healthy and happily awaiting to play with robots another day.
  • Having barriers between pits definitely made a difference, even if sometimes it felt like a crowded pit was still a breeding ground. I’d also hesitate to host any large offseasons in a highschool gym still; the Alamodome is MASSIVE, and it made me feel a lot better about hosting a competition with the amount of team that the Texas Cup had. If your able to require vaccinations and negative tests please actually make sure it happens, as that would’ve quelled my fear a LOT more.
  • Again to my knowledge no one I know got covid-19 after the event.
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Is this true, can someone confirm?

  • Have you been to an off-season?
  • What Covid-19 safety protocols were in place at the event?
  • What was the Covid situation like in your area at the time of the event?
  • Did you feel safe at the event?
  • What protocols would you suggest for someone else looking to host an event?
  • Did any cases result from the event to the best of your knowledge?

Yes- I attended CHSy Champs.

COVID protocols at the event:

  • No Spectators
  • Masks required indoors
  • Food and Drink consumed outdoors
  • Distanced Pits
  • Teams conducted COVID-19 Symptom screenings before the event
  • Each robot had 15 people total (minimum of two mentors)

Virginia was at a seven day average of 6.36 new confirmed COVID cases per 100k population when the CHSy Champs took place, this was a slight uptick but still low compared to most states in the US:

I did feel safe at the event, precautions were taken seriously and people I was interacting with were pretty much all vaccinated. Honestly I maybe felt more in danger from out of control robots slamming field walls than COVID.

I would suggest that other event hosts use these protocols but enhance them with a requirement for a recent negative COVID test or proof of vaccination for all attendees and lay out repercussions for failure to abide by COVID protocols.

A host team member confirmed that they’ve received no reports of COVID cases tied to the event.

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This is true. While the event was supposed to have some of the more stringent guidelines of that timeline, state government mandates against requiring masks and other safety protocols at school events, combined with team emails complaining about said protocols led to a drastic reduce in them.

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I’m glad to the best of your knowledge no one got sick! Could you elaborate a little bit more about how it went? I know Texas Cup was one of the ones that made me more anxious, particularly due to the limitless spectators, minimal mitigation, and low natural vaccination rate among the FRC aged population. How many spectators would you say there were? Despite the lack of requirements, would you say teams themselves were generally following best practices? Any other info you can provide?
Thanks!

There was a wide variety of ways that teams did or didn’t follow recommended guidelines. Some teams only brought 6 members like prior restrictions had required, and logistically couldn’t bring more members than were planned. On the other hand, some teams brought many more members and I don’t think the 13 per team rule was enforced, or at least not enforced beyond the occasional wristband check, if that.

The stands were never full, but by the finals they did get uncomfortably packed, I don’t want to give a number as I don’t remember exactly how big the stands were.

While the recommendations to stay distanced were made, there were still teams who grouped up pits into ‘super pits’ as the competition went on.

Some teams were, to the best of their ability, staying within the recommendations for protecting against covid by wearing masks, and staying in small groups, but other teams didn’t care. There were definitely teams that generally did not care about masks.

No, I was going to volunteer at Northshore Knockout, but it was canceled.

Worst state in the USA per capita.

I would have, but what I learned this week makes me glad it was canceled.

See above. If you are in a place where asking for proof of vaccination is not allowed or Delta is an issue (or both), put the same mask/distance requirements on everyone.

No.

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This response is interesting to me.

What new data made you feel this way? Is it new developments or simply new ways of expressing concerns?

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The numbers continue to rise, though that’s not really it because I consider the risk today to be proportional to the numbers we can expect in ten to fourteen days, and they’re only a little higher than I expected so far. It’s hitting closer to home. Friday evening, two of my seven closest co-workers (all of us are vacced) were exposed to a (vacced) positive, at an event held in a small residence. And OBTW, another three of those seven have specific health risks. I found out last week than my aunt (in a different part of the country) is hospitalized. One of my children (previous low symptom positive, then vacced, again low symptoms) has been stuck at home for over a week due to exposure and a positive test.

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I will provide a slight update on my end. It’s been about 5 days since the event I attended. My and all my family who attended are all healthy and well. As an extra precaution and out of curiosity I did take an at home test, and it came back negative.


I have yet to hear of any positive cases out of this event, or any other for that matter which is really promising for me.

I think we have to be cognisant of the situation in our areas and how we keep ourselves and our students safe, while also reminding ourselves that masks work and vaccines work. I hope to get to play with you all again soon (:

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I attended SCRAP in Columbia, SC on Saturday and Sunday.

Event COVID precautions:

  • Masks required when in the event
  • Temperature checks at the door
  • Attendees required to have been symptom free for three days prior
  • Teams limited to 30 members

South Carolina was at 47.6 new cases per 100k population, sixth worst in the US:

I felt much less safe at this event than at CHSy Champs.

  • The event allowed drinks to be consumed inside meaning people were taking masks off or down to drink.
  • Maybe 5% of the crowd at any given moment were incorrectly wearing masks with their noses exposed.
  • Temperature checks were hit-or-miss with no one that we saw being checked during Friday load-in that, and it seemed that people who came in late on Saturday and Sunday missed them.
  • At one point a maskless mentor shouted in front of the stands for people to do the wave and then ran back and forth to guide it
  • Mask discipline was so bad that event staff had to come on field before a match and specifically reminded everyone about mask rules
  • After the announcement the same mentor, again without a mask, shouted into the crowd to lead his team in chants.
  • Social distancing was effectively non-existent.
  • Event music was quite loud, necessitating raised voices or shouting to be heard, this has been shown to drastically increase aerosol particle emissions.

SCRAP definitely reinforced what I would consider adequate COVID precautions at events:

  • Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test within the past 72 hours
  • No Spectators
  • Masks required indoors
  • Food and Drink consumed outdoors
  • Distanced Pits
  • COVID-19 Symptom screenings before the event
  • 15 people per team max
  • Rapidly escalating penalties for teams that violate mask rules
  • No event music so that people can talk at normal levels.

I’m unsure on whether other teams will be notified if an attendee does report a positive test in the coming days.

Edit to add:
I really don’t mean for any of this post to be aimed at organizers or volunteers. All things considered SCRAP was well-run and from what I saw volunteers were trying their best to enforce masks, but they got ignored by some participants. I think the biggest change I would have made as an organizer was to specify escalating penalties for violations of mask rules.

Clearly there were people at the event who thought masks were silly, but in my view it’s identical to requiring safety glasses or closed toe shoes and is a precaution at competition that we adhere to whether strictly necessary or not.

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CHSy Champs is definitely one of the ones I’ve felt most comfortable about, to the point where I wanted to get my team to go, though travel and logistics made it not quite possible. I’m glad you felt it went well. The mask discipline issue you brought up is somewhat upsetting unfortunately, though the fact that they were required as opposed to events like hangar games and Texas Cup is definitely nothing to scoff at. I didn’t notice any mask issues at Battlecry, but to be fair I was definitely more preoccupied with robot stuff than staring at everyone’s masks. I’d be very interested to hear about if any positive cases develop. So far I have not heard of any positive cases associated with FRC Off-seasons, but just because I haven’t heard about them doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and it’s unfortunately likely to happen eventually, particularly with the new contagious variants.

how did things work out with a group of 10 people? I think this might be one of the restrictions for 2022 events if there will be any, it must have been tiring for team members with so few people.

For an offseason it wasn’t bad. We had 2-3 kids do some scouting and the rest were working with driveteam. If it were an official event, I’d probably wish the limit was a bit higher. Only having 24 teams at the event kept numbers pretty reasonable.

I’m interested in how the larger teams would be able to handle determining who gets to go and who can’t.

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exactly, who to take would be a hard decision and for regional events; many teams will need chairman’s award presenters and pit crew for judges. maybe a limit of 15, not 10, can be introduced. Well, we’ll wait and see. Thanks for the answer

Chairman’s and many other judged awards could be moved completely or largely on-line rather than face-to-face.

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To add a datapoint here - the MRI event was held a week ago here in MN. 25 teams (in a gym that usually holds 36 teams), full masks. An email was just sent out to all teams about 2 positive covid tests from attendees. So, potential exposure to 25 teams and a bunch of volunteers, with additional potential exposure beyond that to 25 different schools.

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Were masks the only Covid protection at that event?

I know it can come across as scary, but it is certainly possible there are two cases and no community transmission with the right protocols in place.