State guidance permits all outdoor sports competition starting next Friday, but Santa Clara County could hold off

STORY AND PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

The California Department of Public Health today loosened its youth sports restrictions, permitting all outdoor sports — including football, water polo, field hockey and soccer, among others — to resume inter-team competitions on Feb. 26 in counties with fewer than 14 cases per 100,000 in the population.

Santa Clara County currently reports 10.9 cases per 100,000 in the population, qualifying the region for the loosened restrictions which apply irrespective of coronavirus transmission tier, a departure from a previous system where youth sports competition was contingent upon the county’s placement on the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”

In a statement to the Post, however, Santa Clara County said that it is “currently reviewing” the state’s guidance, and will provide additional information “as soon as possible.”

“The County will carefully review the newly released State guidance [and] existing local directives that apply to all youth programs and athletic activities, and consider the comprehensive benefits and risks,” the county wrote. “While the County remains very concerned about protecting the community from the spread of COVID-19, we also recognize the value of exploring ways to expand allowable sports activities as safely as possible.”

The statement noted the need to “holistically” protect the community’s physical and mental health. 

State guidance allows local health officers to implement more stringent rules “tailored to local conditions,” setting up another possible chapter in a months-long saga of shifting COVID-19 restrictions at both the state and county level.

Among a host of now-standard social distancing and masking requirements, the state mandates that all athletes and coaches participating in high-contact sports in counties with a case rate between seven and 14 per 100,000 be subject to weekly COVID-19 tests.

High-contact sports include football, soccer, water polo, lacrosse and outdoor basketball.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Governor Gavin Newsom said the state will pay for the tests.

Additionally, state guidance “strongly encourages” face coverings and 6-foot social distancing during play, but falls short of a strict mandate. Santa Clara County guidance does, however, require both 6-foot social distancing and face coverings during play, with the only exception being aquatic athletes when actively in the water.

“We are concerned with the overall physical and mental health of all of our residents and recognize the critical importance of sports and other activities for children and youth,” the county wrote. “The County will continue to take a comprehensive approach to all of our directives and will provide additional information as soon as possible before the State’s updated guidance takes effect.”

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