The California Department of Public Health released updated youth sports guidelines on Friday, setting an easier path for outdoor high-contact sports to be played this school year.
Outdoor high-contact sports such as football, soccer and water polo can now be played in Purple and Red tier counties with a positive COVID-19 test rate of 14 or less cases per 100,000.
Competition in high-contact sports, which the CDPH defined as “team sports with frequent or sustained close contact,” was only allowed in the Orange tier prior to Friday. That’s the second-lowest level in the four-tier “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” system created by the CDPH.
Fresno County has never reached the Orange tier since the system was created.
But with new modifications to the guidelines, high schools in Fresno County and across the state have a more attainable goal to play their football, soccer and water polo season.
Fresno County currently sits at 19.8 cases per 100,000. A reduction in that number is necessary for outdoor high-contact sports to make their return locally.
For the 27 California counties who meet the case requirements, once the guidance goes into effect on February 26, high school football can return.
Antigen or PCR COVID-19 testing will be required weekly from high school football coaches and players, with test results available at least 24 hours before play. Water polo coaches and players are required to test weekly as well.
Governor Gavin Newsom said in a press conference Friday that the state will cover the cost of testing for high school sports.
Outdoor moderate-contact sports such as baseball, softball and tennis can also be played in Purple tier counties with a test rate less or equal to 14 cases per 100,000. Those sports were originally allowed only under the Red tier.
No weekly testing is required from the outdoor moderate-contact sports, except for the standard social distancing and mask requirements for all of the youth sports under the guidance.
The inter-team competition rule remained the same from the previous guidance, with teams only allowed to compete with other schools from the same or bordering county and no more than two teams allowed to compete at a time.
If a county follows the updated guidance and meets the requirements to play outdoor high and moderate-contact sports, the CDPH notes that “competition is not required to cease if the county’s adjusted case rate exceeds the 14 per 100,000 threshold.”
There were no updates given for indoor sports such as basketball, volleyball and wrestling.
“That’s a separate conversation,” Newsom said, “and more complicated.”