State gives indoor sports the green light

STORY AND PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Indoor sports across the state of California may now return to competition following a settlement reached with the “Let Them Play CA” movement on March 4, with subsequent guidance issued by the state health department effective March 5.

By permitting indoor sports competition, the state has further continued its substantial walk-back of restrictions, given a previous update to guidance that allowed all outdoor sports to resume in counties with adjusted case rates below 14, irrespective of placement on the state’s coronavirus tier system.

The state’s new guidance effectively scraps its old tier system, in which sports returns were contingent upon their determined level of risk and local coronavirus transmissions.

As per usual, these latest rules do leave room for local health officers to implement tighter restrictions, but Santa Clara County nullified its local guidance regarding youth sports on Feb. 26, meaning that the county now follows state guidance as issued.

But the guidance comes with a catch: indoor youth sports must follow collegiate-level safety protocol, most notably implementing “regular” COVID-19 testing. 

More than that, indoor high-contact sports teams — including basketball, volleyball and wrestling — may only engage in competition if the team is able to provide COVID-19 test results for all athletes and staff two days prior to each competition.

Previous guidance strictly banning shared equipment and indoor activities such as team dinners continues to be in effect. The state still mandates 6-foot social distancing during competition and on the sidelines “to the maximum extent possible.”

Face coverings continue to be required for indoor and outdoor sports alike during practice, conditioning and competition — even “as tolerated” during heavy exertion.

Guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which the state refers to for specific instances that exempt athletes from wearing face coverings, provide the following exceptions:

  • Individual sports performed outside, such as golf and singles tennis, when athletes are able to be sufficiently distanced because of the low risk of transmission
  • While tumbling, stunting and flying in competitive cheerleading, as well as while “on different apparatuses” in gymnastics because of the “theoretical risk” that masks could get caught on objects, impair vision or become a choking hazard
  • During wrestling contact, as masks could become a choking hazard
  • When actively in the water, such as while swimming and diving, because masks saturated with water or sweat are ineffective

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