County walks back 25-foot rule for youth sports, but adds new restrictions

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY GIL RUBINSTEIN

The Santa Clara County Health Department appears to have walked back its previous mandate that athletics cohorts maintain a 25-foot distance from one another, a restriction that sparked outrage among the high school sports community.

The new guidance notes that participants in youth athletic activity must maintain at least 6 feet of distance, conspicuously missing its previous stipulation that cohorts keep 25 feet from one another.

In its latest order, however, the county added a restriction that requires athletes to wear masks at all times, the only exception being for aquatic athletes when in the water. That’s a change from previous guidelines, which allowed athletes to remove masks when engaged in strenuous physical activity.

The guidance also allows for two cohorts within the county or an adjacent one to engage in competition — but only track and field, cross country, skiing, snowboarding, tennis, swimming and diving are permitted to hold competitions with three or more cohorts.

“I understand wearing masks when we are on campus, warming up or stretching, but when we are working really hard, it definitely makes the workout a lot harder and less enjoyable when masks are required,” said Los Altos junior and varsity cross country runner Riley Capuano.

Capuano added that when her team goes out on runs — without masks, which was permitted by previous guidelines — they space out, 6 feet apart, in groups of three or four.

“I can’t imagine racing with a mask and how much slower I would run,” she said.

Earlier today, superintendents and athletic directors expressed outrage at the county’s now-rescinded order that athletics cohorts keep a 25-foot distance, which would’ve made competition virtually impossible; that order was released by county in October of last year, but local leaders — notably, Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin — were only made aware of it at a county meeting with superintendents last night.

But the miscommunication between county officials and high school officials sparked a torrent of indignation through this evening, culminating in the county’s release of its new guidance.

The Santa Clara Valley Athletic League is set to begin its season one competition in just over two weeks, on Feb. 15.

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