CA Awaiting Guidelines For Return To Sports

The news wasn't good earlier this week as the California Department of Public Health announced continued spikes in COVID-19 that forced three counties back into the Purple (widespread) tier: Sacramento, San Diego and Stanislaus.

As of Tuesday's announcement, almost two-thirds of California's 58 counties were either in the Purple or Red (substantial) tiers and almost all are in major population centers.

It's a trend in the wrong direction.

It was July 20 when the State CIF announced a revised calendar for high school sports in 2020-21 with optimism that the pandemic would be under control by the end of 2020. The majority of the state's 10 sections quickly responded with start and end schedules as three seasons of sport were consolidated into two. 

The revised CIF calendar was to launch with practices in early December and the official season beginning hours after Christmas, or, in many cases, the second day of the new year. 

The coronavirus pandemic was expected to have been under control at this point of the calendar, at least that was the hope way back in mid-July. But that hasn't been the case as we enter into the cold and flu season with anxiety spiking along with positive tests for the virus, hospitalizations and ICU occupancy. 

Cross country is scheduled to begin around the turn of the calendar with the traditional Thanksgiving Saturday CIF-State Championships now scheduled for March 27. Track and field is supposed to begin in mid-March with the usual Memorial Day championships now slotted for the last weekend in June. 

It's been 16 weeks since that July 20 announcement. It's now less than six weeks before what is supposed to be the return to high school sports. 

On Tuesday, Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary, announced that new guidelines for high school and youth sports would be "coming soon."

Ghaly is a pediatrician by trade and father of four. He is admittedly empathetic toward athletes and parents of athletes yearning for a return to training and competition. He said Tuesday in a teleconference with reporters that his office has been working with the state CIF "to ensure that we are aligned in the guidance it will provide clarity as to when competition can take place."

"It has certainly been among the many challenges we've had in managing the pandemic for our state," Ghaly said, "... ensuring that young people, high school and even younger athletes, have a chance to continue to practice and continue to improve their skills."

Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod, in a one-on-one interview with James Escarcega of the Southern California News Group on Tuesday, said the CIF's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee "prepared a plan for return to play" that was shared with the state Department of Public Health. The plan tied the state's color tiers of Purple, Red, Orange (moderate) and Yellow (minimal) to "what it would mean for high school sports.

"That was submitted to them approximately a month ago and there has been a lot of back and forth to clarify and get information."

Ghaly elaborated on that during his call with reporters, saying that "there is tolerance for additional -- even some of the higher risk -- sports to occur, not just from the conditioning, but from the competition perspective" in areas with lower degrees of transmission. 

"When we're seeing high rates of transmission for counties that have been in the Purple and even Red tiers longest, that they may not have as many of the higher risk sports return right away.

"But all of this will be released soon. We're working through some of those final details."

Wigod said that state office, through Executive Director Ron Nocetti, has been in touch with the office of Governor Gavin Newsom. 

"We are expecting any day now a response to that plan, a road map if you will, of going forward, so that people are clearly aware of what the guidelines will be as we continue in November and head for December and beyond," Wigod told Escarcega. "We're very anxious to get that information back and hopeful that it will give us a good clear path as to how high school athletics come back to campuses."

Said Ghaly: "We are close, these are not easy guidances to put together. There's not just the competition issue, but there's the conditioning issue. There's the understanding how we continue to drive through our equity lens to make sure that there's important broad access to all of these opportunities.

"I hope that we find a way to hold on a little longer that we understand that (traveling to compete in other) states and other areas with higher transmission is risky, not just for that team but for the community that they return to."

With the clock ticking on the previously scheduled resumption of athletics in CA, it isn't clear when these new guidelines will be available other than Ghaly saying "in the near term."