State releases guidelines for youth sports

SACRAMENTO – Football, volleyball and other popular high school sports will remain on hold until at least Jan. 25 as cases of the coronavirus continue to surge in the state, according to new guidance released by the California Department of Public Health on Monday.

The state’s four-tier coronavirus tracking system underpins the long-awaited guidance for when outdoor and indoor youth and recreational adult sports can resume. “High-contact” outdoor sports such as football and soccer can only be played in counties that are in the orange, or moderate, tier. As of Monday, 54 counties, including the nine that make up the Bay Area, were in the purple, or widespread, tier; three were in the red, or substantial, tier; and one was in the orange tier.

The guidance defines high-contact sports as team sports with frequent or sustained close contact between participants and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants; moderate-contact sports as team sports that can be played with only incidental or intermittent close contact between participants; and low-contact sports as individual or small group sports where contact within six feet of other participants can be avoided.

Inter-team competition will not be allowed in the state until Jan. 25 at the earliest, according to the guidance.

Justin Alumbaugh, head football coach at De La Salle High School in Concord, wasn’t surprised to see his sport on the lower end of the return-to-play classification.

“A lot of that makes sense,” Alumbaugh said in a telephone interview. “It’s going to be a challenge, but at least it’s doable. Now we’re given something that we can work with. That was something that we were really, really, really needing and we got it.”

“Now it’s up to us to start implementing what’s going on,” Alumbaugh said. “It’ll be interesting to see what the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) does with this – if they have to move (sports) around.”

Indoor basketball faces a tougher challenge. It was placed in the yellow, or minimal, tier. The guidance states that indoor sports are higher risk than outdoor sports because of reduced ventilation.

Sports that can be played in the purple tier include cross county, golf, swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field.

The guidance also includes directives to wear face coverings, remain six feet apart as much as possible, clean and sanitize equipment before use, and limit indoor sports venue capacity (25 percent in the orange tier and 50 percent in the yellow tier).

Physical conditioning, practice, skill building and training are allowed outdoors, with six feet of physical distancing, and within stable cohorts, regardless of county tier status, according to the guidance.

CIF officials and commissioners from the governing body’s 10 sections plan to meet Tuesday to discuss the guidance and presumably a plan moving forward.

“I would hope that we have some guidance to each of our individual sections by the end of this week in regards to that meeting,” said Central Coast Section commissioner David Grissom, who oversees an area stretching from King City to San Francisco. “It’s very preliminary to say anything. But I am encouraged that the state has put out some guidance.”

When the CIF announced over the summer that high school sports would be delayed until at least December, it reduced its calendar from three seasons (fall, winter, spring) to two (winter/spring and spring/early summer).

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