SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 23: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during the grand opening of an emergency interim housing community site on Monterey Road, on Oct. 23, 2020, in San Jose. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
California health officials rolled out new guidance on youth and high school sports Monday evening, giving athletes, parents and coaches hope that they could see games before the end of the school year.
But even as vaccine shots make their way into the arms of some Californians, the coronavirus rages on, breaking new case and death records multiple times per week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom tried to split the difference between those two realities Tuesday morning.
Whether high-profile sports like football and basketball will be allowed within the state before high school seniors graduate without a final season remains to be seen, Newsom said.
“The virus will make that determination,” he said, “(through) our actions, each and every individual action, the sum total of which will determine how quickly that will occur.”
The state will allow sports to resume no earlier than Jan. 25, based on the coronavirus transmission risk associated with each sport and the level of community spread within each county. The California Interscholastic Federation and its 10 section commissioners are meeting Tuesday afternoon to begin formulating plans under the new system.
Football and soccer won’t be allowed in any county with a risk status above the orange tier, while basketball and other high-contact indoor sports won’t be allowed anywhere above the yellow tier. Currently, just one California county is in the orange tier, and only three are in the red tier. The state’s other 54 counties, as of Monday, are at least two tiers away from returning to the orange tier.
Newsom emphasized that he understands where parents and athletes are coming from: He and his wife both played collegiate athletics — baseball at Santa Clara for him and soccer at Stanford for her. His kids are involved in youth sports, so he says he knows the burden on families.
“I’m reverential in terms of my desire, for kids’ mental and physical health, for parents’ mental and physical health, to get kids playing sports again in a safe manner,” he said. “So we’ve been stubborn, we’ve been working on this, lot of work behind the scenes on this.”
That work behind the scenes resulted in a complex but fairly comprehensive list of sports grouped into tiers. Doubles pickleball won’t be allowed above the red tier, while singles is fine any time, for example.
Prep sports such as cross country, golf and tennis are on track to resume statewide as soon as Jan. 25, provided CIF adjusts its schedule accordingly.
Newsom also made note of a club basketball tournament last month that has been tied to at least 77 positive tests. That is the type of situation the state must avoid.
“People were not applying the rules. They were not modifying their activity. They were doing a multi-state tournament in the middle of the pandemic,” he said. “They quite literally put the lives of those who participated at risk. That’s not an exaggeration at all. It wasn’t just the kids that tested positive, but some of the staff, coaches rather, and some of the parents.”
With the state and the nation shattering case-count records on a near-daily basis, most athletes and parents are reliant on Californians sticking to the rules, as well as the efficacy of the state’s vaccine rollout, for their chance at a season this school year.
Staff writer Nico Savidge contributed to this story.