Gov. Newsom green lights return of high-contact sports

More moderate/high-contact outdoor sports such as football, baseball, softball, water polo and soccer can resume if certain metrics are met

TULARE COUNTY – The last year has been a roller coaster of emotions for high school athletes throughout California. Last Friday they received their best news of the pandemic as the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released new guidance paving the way for a return of more outdoor high-contact and moderate-contact sports.

Outdoor high-contact sports, such as football, soccer and water polo were previously only permitted in the orange tier, but can now be played in the purple or red tier with an adjusted case rate equal to or less than 14 per 100,000. As of press time, Tulare County is in the purple tier with an adjusted case rate of 24.8. That number has been frequently falling over the last few weeks as it was over 40 just two weeks ago.

Once the county reaches the adjusted case rate of 14 per 100,000 or less, there are two main conditions schools must follow for those sports to return. They must provide information regarding risk to all parents/guardians of minors participating in such sports, and have each parent sign an informed consent indicating their understanding and acknowledgment of the risks that come with a return play. Schools must also perform regular and postseason antigen or PCR testing of sports participants and coaches weekly. If competing, test results must be made available within 24 hours of play. According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state will absorb the cost and provide the testing.

“We worked for the last many, many weeks on looking at the data, science, comparing and contrasting other rules and regulations all across the United States,” Newsom said in Friday’s press conference. “We are confident that if we can resume [sports] it will only help enliven the capacity of these kids to feel more engaged, feel more alive…and resume activities that are much more positive in terms of their life’s choices.”

Outdoor moderate-contact sports in the red tier, such as baseball, softball, tennis (doubles) and cheerleading can be played in the purple tier with an adjusted case rate equal to or less than 14 per 100,000 as long as schools receive informed consent from parents.

The guidelines will take effect on Feb. 26 and the status of return to competition is subject to change at any time given the level of COVID-19 transmission in California.

If competition for high- and moderate-contact sports is permitted to resume in a county pursuant to this updated guidance, competition is not required to cease if the county’s adjusted case rate exceeds the 14 per 100,000 threshold.

Additional guidance includes limiting the observation of youth sports to immediate household members. This includes observation of practice and competition. Inter-team competitions, meets, races, or similar events are permitted to occur only if both teams are located in the same county or teams are located in immediately bordering counties.

No tournaments or events that involve more than two teams may occur unless exceptions are made with authorization from the local health department where the event is being held and each of the local health departments where teams originate from.

Once metrics are met, there are certain dates that each sport can begin competitions and then also recommended “start by” dates to accommodate four weeks of competition according to previously released guidance from the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Central Section. Water Polo had to have begun by Feb. 22. Football will begin immediately and should start by March 26. Soccer can begin on March 8 and should start by April 15. Baseball and softball, can begin on March 20 and should start by May 6.

Some school districts and leagues have already canceled certain sports such as football and water polo. The Tulare Joint Union High School District canceled volleyball and water polo for this year, but met after press time on Tuesday to discuss the issue. The East Sequoia League (ESL) canceled their football and volleyball seasons as did the Porterville Unified School (PUSD) district who also canceled water polo. According to PUSD public information officer Jason Pommier, the ESL and East Yosemite League are meeting this week to discuss the issue.

It is believed that COVID-19 is more easily transmitted indoors, therefore Newsom says the state is still working on guidance for sports such as volleyball, basketball and wrestling.

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