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State eases restrictions on youth sports, meaning possible faster return of football and others

Youth football could resume under new state guidance if coaches and players 13 and older get weekly coronavirus tests.
Youth football could resume under new state guidance if all coaches and players 13 and older get tested for the coronavirus once a week.
(File / Thom Vollenweider)

California public health officials loosened the rules Feb. 19 for youth sports, allowing all outdoor sports to resume in counties where coronavirus case rates are at or below 14 per 100,000 residents. San Diego County currently has a rate of 22.2 cases per 100,000 residents.

The new guidance clears the way for sports such as baseball, softball, gymnastics and cheerleading to resume Feb. 26 in counties that meet the requirement.

High-contact outdoor sports such as football, rugby and water polo also could resume under the new standard if all coaches and players 13 and older get tested for the coronavirus once a week. Test results must be available within 24 hours of competition. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would absorb the cost of the required testing.

San Diego County previously was expected to have to move into less-restrictive tiers of the state’s reopening framework for those sports to resume.

The guidance applies to all forms of organized youth sports, including school and community programs and private clubs and leagues.

Some low-contact outdoor sports including cross country, golf, tennis, track and field and swimming/diving already are getting started this month in San Diego County.

The guidance requires all coaches and spectators to wear masks and says athletes should wear masks when not participating, such as on the sidelines. The guidance encourages, but does not mandate, vaccinations for athletes, coaches and staff.

It also maintains previous guidance limiting spectators to immediate household members, with limits on overall numbers to ensure physical distancing.

The new guidelines were developed in partnership with organizations large and small, including the Let Them Play coalition, said the governor, who thanked them “for their strong advocacy.”

Newsom said the combination of school closures and the inability for youths to participate in sports has had both a physical and mental health impact “in profound and significant and in many cases deleterious ways.”

He said the downward trends in coronavirus cases in California prompted the state to move toward resumption of youth sports.

“We are now confident ... that we can get youth sports moving again ... with, as always, caveats,” he said. “None of us are naive. ... Despite those very encouraging trends, we still need to be cautious until we reach herd immunity.”

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the county is ready and waiting to resume youth sports safely.

“We have seen considerable progress on vaccines and lower cases, and this is a positive step forward in our recovery,” he said.

Ron Gladnick, head football coach at Torrey Pines High School and a vocal advocate for letting youth sports resume, sent a message on social media thanking Fletcher, Supervisor Jim Desmond and former Republican candidate for governor John Cox for working across ideological lines on the issue.

“It’s awesome when people can put small differences aside to serve a higher purpose like kids,” he wrote.

— The San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.