Sports approach the starting line

Cross country in Tulare County could begin as early as this month, plus a few other sports in March

TULARE COUNTY – It’s been eleven long months since the last high school sports competition in Tulare County and the wait could finally be over. After Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted regional stay-at-home orders across the state last Monday, he also gave the green light for certain high school sports to resume competition.

The sports allowed to return are based on the county’s status on the state’s color-coded tier system. Tulare County is currently in the purple tier which would allow for outdoor low contact sports. That is defined by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) as individual or small group sports where contact within six feet of other participants can be avoided. Some of these sports have relatively low exertion rates that allow for consistent wearing of face coverings when within six feet of other people. Things may change at any time depending on COVID-19 transmission and ICU availability projections in California.

This guidance would allow for cross country competitions to resume immediately. According to the revised California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Central Section schedule, it is the only season one (January through April) sport that is permitted in the purple tier. Season two will go from March to June and the sports permitted in the purple tier are golf, swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field.

Now that the state has given the green light, schools received guidance from the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency (TCHHSA) stating that competitions must be between only two teams. Multi-team competitions or tournaments are not authorized at this time and according to TCHHSA public information officer Carrie Monteiro, they will not be allowed until county COVID case rates decrease.

Each school will also have their own rules and regulations. Most schools are currently solidifying schedules for their teams in the permitted sports and are planning for cross country competitions to begin sometime this month. They may elect to open their seasons at a later date within the central section’s season of sport. Some districts such as Exeter Unified School District (EUSD) may elect to wait until students are back to in-person learning before allowing sports competitions. However, that is not a final decision and EUSD continues to evaluate the best options to keep students safe.

Under the central section’s recently revised schedule, playoffs and championship events for cross country, football, girls’ volleyball and water polo are canceled. Current CDPH guidance only allowing competition between bordering counties would make section championship events impossible. The Porterville Unified School District has decided to cancel their football, volleyball, and water polo seasons altogether. In order for those seasons to happen in other districts, Tulare County would have to improve from the purple tier, past the red tier into the orange tier. For that to happen, the county’s seven-day average of daily COVID-19 cases would have to improve from its current rate of over 60 cases per 100,000 down to 1.0–3.9 cases per 100,000.

When competitions finally begin, CDPH has a number of guidelines for schools to follow. Participants should wear face coverings when participating in the activity, even with heavy exertion as tolerated, unless the face covering could become a hazard. Face coverings must also be worn when not participating in the activity, such as on the sidelines.

Coaches should facilitate physical distancing between participants to the maximum extent possible (e.g., staggered starts instead of mass starts for races). Athletes may only participate in one cohort (team) during the same time or season.

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