Annie Norris and Ryan Gibbons, the two athlete representatives for the Southern Zone of USA Swimming, have released a letter imploring their fellow swimmers to practice social distancing, wear masks, and follow health guidelines provided by government agencies.
As battles rage, both online and in public spaces, about the efficacy of masks or the legality of requiring them, cases in the states represented by the Southern Zone LSC have exploded over the last 6 weeks as those states have begun aggressive reopening campaigns.
The Southern Zone is one of 4 zones in USA Swimming, and it represents 15 Local Swimming Committees (LSCs). Those LSCs include the states of Texas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia.
Florida and Texas, two states that fared relatively-well through the early weeks of the pandemic, now rank 3rd and 4th, respectively, among US states in terms of most positive tests for coronavirus. Relative to population, Florida ranks 13th and Texas 24th, though both are climbing in those rankings. Texas has rolled back some of its rules and begun instituting mandatory mask rules, though many local sheriffs have declared that they won’t enforce those rules. Florida, meanwhile, has held fast in its refusal to roll back regulations or require masks, though some local municipalities have begun to do so.
Texas is averaging almost 7,500 new positive tests daily over the last week, while Florida is averaging almost 8,800. Data shows that much of the spread has been in younger people, in their 20s and 30s.
Most of the states in the zone, like most of the states in the US, have seen a recent increase. While most are not as dramatic as the rises in Texas and Florida, South Carolina has seen numbers of new daily positive tests increase more than 7-times the rate they were at the beginning of June.
In swimming, the Southern Zone had the widest-spread return to the pool the earliest in the pandemic, meaning that teams from this zone have been back in the water the longest and with the most capacity, on average, of USA Swimming’s four zones.
Norris, a current swimmer at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, is originally from Houston; Gibbons is expected to start his college career at Division III Emory University in the fall. He is from Winter Springs, Florida, near Orlando.
Norris is a former member of the USA Swimming Open Water National Committee. Gibbons is also a member of the USA Swimming Safe Sport Committee and Athlete Leadership Sub-Committee
See the full Southern Zone Athlete Representatives’ Statement Below:
Over the past three and a half months, your Southern Zone Athlete Representatives have worked very hard to support our membership during the COVID-19 crisis and to build a transition back into the water. We have met, and continue to meet, frequently with USA Swimming senior leadership, our Southern Zone Non-Athlete Directors, the Zone Directors’ Council, and the Athletes’ Executive Committee, among other groups, to take steps to sustain our membership during pool closures and to rebuild our sport in the wake of COVID-19.
It is with those months of work in mind, and the challenges we are facing as we begin to reopen, that we strongly call on the members and families of the Southern Zone to practice social distancing, wear masks, and follow the health guidelines government agencies have provided.
Cases across the Southern Zone have been spiking in recent weeks as state and local governments begin to reopen, and, while we understand the reopening process and the desire to return to daily life, we need to acknowledge the trade-off this reopening has created. Within our sport, the bulk of this burden falls on us, the younger, generally healthier individuals that make up our teams and LSCs. We must act with selflessness and grace in upholding these guidelines for the sake of protecting more vulnerable populations and our fellow teammates and coaches.
Wearing masks, keeping your distance, and following guidelines has not gone away simply as areas reopen: they are integral to allowing re-openings to continue, and to keeping you and those around you safe. Wearing a mask and following USA Swimming recommendations is a minor inconvenience compared to repercussions we will face for not adhering to these guidelines.
Following such guidelines are essential in ensuring that our sport can continue to progress through a reopening process. Nearly all of our members suffered extensive and/or frequent pool closures, and many of our members still do not have water access. Rapid growth in viral cases will not only hinder the return-to-practice of the swimmers still waiting to return to the pool, it will threaten those who have already returned to practice with future pool closures. Such rapid growth will also slow our ability as a sport to hold the competitions, meets, and programs that are so fundamental to our swimming experience. It is crucial that ALL of our members are acting safely and appropriately in order for us to return to large-level LSC, Zone, and National competition in the foreseeable future. Taking these simple steps will make the difference in our ability to swim together once again.
In the last few months, we have seen incredible persistence, confidence, and unity across the members of the Southern Zone. Swimmers, coaches, and volunteers have stepped up for one another in order to support the vulnerable individuals in their communities. Such dedication has been truly inspiring, but it can’t end yet.
We need your help, your selflessness, and your following of guidelines to get all of us there soon.
Southern Zone Senior Athlete Representative
Southern Zone Senior Athlete Representative