County allows all outdoor sports competition, among other activities, starting Friday

STORY AND PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Santa Clara County will allow a broader range of outdoor activities — including all outdoor sports competition — starting Feb. 26, in a move that follows relaxed state guidance issued just days ago.

The state health department’s Feb. 19 guidance permits all outdoor sports competition, even in sports deemed “high-risk” such as football, in counties with fewer than 14 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the population. 

Santa Clara County currently sits at 10.9 cases per 100,000 in the population, and in fact appears to be on its way to the red tier of coronavirus transmission, although County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody cautioned at a press conference last week that a number of factors could prolong the county’s stay in the purple tier.

State guidance did, however, leave room for local health officers to implement more stringent rules, an opportunity that today’s announcement confirms the county won’t take; the county health department had originally been non-committal when the state’s guidance was first issued, potentially setting up further drama in a months-long saga of waxing and waning youth sports restrictions throughout the pandemic.

Beyond allowing all outdoor sports competition in itself, state guidance also mandates that athletes and coaches participating in high-contact sports in counties with case rates between seven and 14 per 100,000 be subject to weekly COVID-19 tests, which the state will pay for. It is currently unclear from where and how those tests will be provided.

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

State guidance also “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.

Additionally, the county’s eased restrictions extend beyond sports, apparently to the performing arts and “enrichment activities,” so long as they’re conducted outdoors. Restrictions on outdoor social gatherings will also be relaxed “to encourage people not to gather indoors,” although it is currently unclear exactly what that will look like — the county’s press release notes that the full updated guidance will be posted in the next few days.

“We recognize the toll of the pandemic on everyone’s mental, physical, and spiritual health, and the need to balance the risk of COVID with other human needs,” Cody wrote in the press release. “We recognize the importance of all outdoor activities — athletic and non-athletic — to our health and are seeking to allow as much as we can given current levels of community transmission.” 

Cody also noted that it’s “important” that health guidance remain consistent “across the board.”

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