Organized outdoor sports will be allowed to resume across large swaths of California in one week.
The California Department of Public Health has updated its guidance allowing high school sports like football, baseball and soccer to start playing again on February 26 after being banned for nearly 12 months.
Outdoor sports can pick up again in any county that has an adjusted case rate at or below 14 cases per 100,000 residents. Currently every Bay Area county except for Napa, Contra Costa and Solano meets that requirement according to state data from Tuesday.
"Youth sports are important to our children's physical and mental health, and our public health approach has worked to balance those benefits against COVID-19 risks," said Dr. Tomás Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer. "With case rates and hospitalizations declining across California, we are allowing outdoor competition to resume, with modifications and steps to reduce risk, in counties where case rates are lower."
Football, rugby and water polo will require regular testing for coaches and players older than 13 in counties that have at least seven cases per 100,000 residents. The state guidance says these three sports "are high contact sports that are likely to be played unmasked, with close, face to face contact exceeding 15 minutes."
All sports are subject to general safety requirements including face masking, distancing in the crowds and no sharing of equipment wherever possible.
Players will be required to wear face masks whenever they are not playing.
Parents will also have to sign informed consent forms showing that they understand the risk of high and moderate contact sports.
The guidance applies not just to high school sports but all outdoor organized recreational sports including community organized leagues for children and adults, but does not impact college or professional sports or one-time events like marathons.
Indoor sports are only permitted in counties that are in the yellow or orange tiers, of which there are only six in the entire state.
The change is a win for advocates who have pushed for months for bans on high school sports to be lifted in time for most sports to be able to play a spring season.
A coalition of football coaches and Let Them Play CA issued a statement Friday praising the decision.
"From the moment the Governor called us to say he would work with us to help get sports back for kids, it has been a methodical march to get to this wonderful place. It has not been easy; there were many bumps along the way, but good people kept working together to create a positive outcome for our most “Essential Business”- our kids," the group wrote.
They also called it a lesson in determination and resilience for students.
"When something matters to you and it is important, no matter the odds, no matter if you win or lose, you try."
A full list of the guidance for each sport can be found here.