On your mark. Set ...
Monday's announcement by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to lift the Regional Stay At Home Order statewide, is a major step toward high school athletes, particularly cross country, returning to competition.
There are still hurdles to clear and approvals at county and school/school district levels, among them, but none of that was possible as long as the Regional Stay At Home Order remained in place for the most populous regions of the Golden State.
The CDPH had split the state into five regions for tracking impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including on the health care system, specifically ICU capacity, which needed to be at 15 percent or greater to be free of the SAHO. The Northern California region was never under the order, the Greater Sacramento Area had its order lifted on Jan. 12, and Monday's announcement frees up the remaining three regions: Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.
From Monday's CDPH announcement: "This action allows all counties statewide to return to the rules and framework of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy and color-coded tiers that indicate which activities and businesses are open based on local case rates and test positivity. The majority of the counties are in the strictest, or purple tier. Tier updates are provided weekly on Tuesdays. Individual counties could choose to impose stricter rules."
The CDPH had previously approved that cross country would be among sports allowed to compete despite counties in the purple/widespread tier (assuming county, local and school/school district approvals). The start date for cross country competition was listed as Jan. 25. Some sections have subsequently moved the date to Feb. 1.
"While there are positive signs that the virus is spreading at a slower rate across the state, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over," the CDPH release states. "It is still critical that Californians continue to wear masks when they leave their homes, maintain physical distance of at least six feet, wash their hands frequently, avoid gatherings and mixing with other households, follow all state and local health department guidance and get the vaccine when it's their turn."
The CDPH guidelines, distributed Dec. 14, 2020, had previously allowed practice, although with limitations to include social distancing. Those guidelines were updated Monday. Here are a couple of bullet points from that document as sections, counties and schools work toward getting student-athletes back on the line.
- Outdoor activities that allow for consistent wearing of face coverings and physical distancing are lower risk than indoor activities that involve close contact between sports participants and high exertion that increases spread of exhaled particles and limits the ability to wear face coverings consistently. The competition between different teams also increases mixing across groups and outside of communities, which also contributes to the potential for spread of COVID-19 disease.
- Inter-team competitions, meets, races, or similar events are authorized only if (a) both teams are located in the same county and the sport is authorized in the Table below; or (b) teams are located in immediately bordering counties and the sport is authorized in both counties in the Table below.
- Any tournaments or events that involve more than two teams are not currently permitted in California. Exceptions may be made, with authorization from the local health department, for the following sports where individual competitors from multiple teams are routine: track and field; cross-country; golf; skiing/snowboarding; tennis; and swimming/diving.
Sport-specific guidelines for cross country include a suggestion for staggered, wave or interval starts; mandatory mask wearing for all individuals when not otherwise in competition; restrictions to hand-shaking before or after races, and social distancing measures in place at all times.
"California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we've been hoping for," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services Secretary. "Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line medical workers were stretched to their limits, but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared."