The California Department of Public Health announced new guidelines recently to allow youth sports to resume during the coronavirus pandemic. These guidelines, which arrived alongside new waivers for in-person elementary school instruction, will apply to all youth sports programs, whether they are school-based, club or recreational athletic programs. A competition ban was also set in line with the July 20 California Interscholastic Federation decision to delay all fall sports seasons to Dec. 14, pending any changes to state health directives.

“The new guidelines give school districts more freedom to create opportunities for student athletes while curbing the spread of COVID-19,” Chris Fore, president of the California Coaches Association, said. “It brings folks in the private sector back into reality of what we need to adhere to, too.”

New guidelines have been established in Riverside County for youth sports to resume amid the coronavirus pandemic. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Under the new guidelines, youth sports can take place only with physical distancing of at least 6 feet between participants and within a stable cohort, such as a class or team when the participants remain the same, that limits the risk of transmission.

Sports that cannot be played with enough distancing and cohorting are not permitted. Competitions, including games and tournaments, are not allowed. Factors addressed in attempting to limit the spread of COVID-19 include the number of people and length of time at a location, physical distance and the shared use of equipment. If equipment must be shared, the equipment should be cleaned and disinfected between uses. Masks are required for indoor workouts. Face coverings should be changed if they become wet, stick to an athlete’s face and obstruct breathing. Sporting events that would likely result in gathering are not allowed at the present time. Competitions and tournaments would fall under that list.

Youth sports and physical education cannot be carried out without a separation of 6 feet between participants and a stable cohort must be in place that limits the risks of transmission of the disease. To the maximum extent that it is practical, the athletic activities should be held in an outdoor location. Physical conditioning and training are not permitted indoors in counties where gyms cannot operate indoors.

With competition still not allowed, youth sports in Riverside County must be carried out with a separation of 6 feet between participants and a stable cohort must be in place to limit the risks of transmission of COVID-19. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“The new guidelines provide for some participation for youth sports, which is something we know parents, coaches and young athletes have been waiting for, but the No. 1 priority remains the safety of those involved,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer, said. “These guidelines should not be looked at as a return to pre-pandemic participation.”

For sports that cannot be played with sufficient distancing or cohorting, only physical conditioning and training is permitted and only where physical distancing can be maintained. Conditioning and training should focus on individual skill building, such as running drills and body weight resistance training.

These guidelines cover all youth sports, including school-based, club and recreational youth sports, including but not limited to football, basketball, volleyball, hockey, softball, baseball, soccer, swim, water polo, gymnastics, cheer, dance and karate.

For individual or naturally distanced sports like swimming, tennis and cross-country, the guidelines may mean continued practicing as usual, in small groups. But for team-based sports like baseball, basketball and soccer, the stricter rules allow only physical conditioning and distanced technical drilling, like dribbling or batting practice.

Youth sports activities should be held in an outdoor location as the No. 1 priority remains the safety of those involved. Valley News/Courtesy photo

According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, all youth sports and physical education classes must adhere to the state’s guidance regarding safety protocols. Training of staff on how to operate within the suggested measures for the safety of all involved will be required of all youth sports organizations.

As most local schools gear up for remote learning extending into the foreseeable future, the lack of interaction among students has most certainly left families concerned. Of course, with the concern, it should also be noted that students who participate in sports don’t just improve their physical fitness; they also gain necessary social and emotional development. That same social and emotional development has been sorely lacking during these past few months of sheltering in place. To read the county’s updated advisory letter on youth sports, visit http://www.rivcoph.org.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.