New California sports guidelines will allow football in many counties on Feb. 26

The California Department of Public Health released its much-anticipated youth sports update on Friday after weeks of talks with coaches and CIF officials while seeing a major decline in coronavirus cases. The new guidance offers a way for high school football and water polo teams to begin practicing for their twice-delayed seasons with a weekly testing component on Feb. 26.

Last March, high school sports came to a halt in California when campuses were shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. In July, the CIF, the state’s governing body for high school sports, delayed the 2020-21 fall sports season until December. State health guidelines prohibited competitive sports for months even though most other states continued to hold competitions.

On Friday, the CDPH announced that high-contact sports such as football, rugby and water polo, with participants ages 13 and older, can be played in counties with an adjusted daily case rate of 14 or fewer per 100,000 population, with regular weekly testing for athletes and coaches. L.A. County, though, currently has a case rate of 17.6 per 100,000, and its teams would not qualify.

Either antigen or PCR testing will be required for all participants and coaches. The state will work with schools to get testing done, connecting them with sites, particularly public schools in hardest hit communities.

“We’ve been looking at data and science. We are now confident with new guidelines we can get youth sports running again,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference Friday. He added the state will help absorb the costs of testing. When it comes to indoor sports, Newsom said, “That’s a separate conversation and more complicated.”

The updated guidance will allow outdoor, high-contact sports in counties in the more-restrictive purple and red tiers if they meet the case rate requirements.

“I think it’s very much a positive way forward,” said Ron Nocetti, executive director of the CIF.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the Golden State Coaches Community was formed. San Mateo Serra football coach Patrick Walsh and San Diego Torrey Pines football coach Ron Gladnick helped gather data from around the state and country before beginning talks with officials in Newsom’s office to try to build support for reopening youth sports. A Facebook parents group, Let Them Play Ca., began organizing rallies in support of resuming sports.

“Whatever they present is the way we’re moving forward,” Walsh said of CFPH guidelines. “It’s uniquely better than what we have now.”

The biggest reason schools will now have a chance to play football and other sports is the steep drop in transmission rates. As of Tuesday, case rates in 47 of the state’s 58 counties had fallen enough to allow some level of classroom instruction. The key metric now is getting to the red tier, where the seven-day average of coronavirus cases average 4.0 to 7.0 per 100,000. The purple tier includes counties with more than 7.0 daily cases per 100,000.

Football originally was to be allowed only in counties in the orange tier, with daily case rates of 1.0 to 3.9 per 100,000. Most counties would not qualify under that requirement by March, when football games need to begin so they can finish by the CIF’s end date of April 17.

“That’s awesome,” Hueneme football coach Jon Mack said of the new guidance. “I am so appreciative to coach real football and give our kids a chance to compete.”

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