The high school football season is back on track, for now, as Santa Cruz County superintendents released updated guidance for outdoor high-contact sports that won’t require teams to test for Covid-19 moving forward.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Michelle Rodriguez was notified on March 15 that there are no Covid-19 testing requirements for outdoor high-contact sports as long as the county remains in the red tier of the state’s reopening plan, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
The superintendents met on March 15 and were told by CDPH that athletes don’t have to test prior to a game so long as the county has an adjusted case rate of less than 7 cases per 100,000 residents. That means the six Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League (SCCAL) football games slated for this weekend are ready to go.
“We are now back on track,” Rodriguez said.
Last week, five of the six league games were postponed until April 17, starting with the Belgard Kup between Watsonville and Pajaro Valley high schools.
Rodriguez was informed by the county public health department that their testing plan did not qualify or align with CDPH requirements. She said daily testing had to be implemented and they had to start with a baseline PCR testing.
“That occurred on Friday and we were not able to within hours be able to make a shift. One thing that we want to do is make sure and not put the future of the entire season in jeopardy by not following health guidelines,” she said.
In February, CDPH updated its guidance for outdoor and indoor youth sports. The state announced that outdoor high-contact sports previously only allowed in the “moderate” orange tier, were allowed to be played in the most-restrictive “widespread” purple tier or “substantial” red tier if the county has an adjusted case rate equal to or less than 14 per 100,000.
The state further updated that guidance on March 4, stating that teams can return to competition only if they adhere to the stricter requirements in place for college teams. The terms include rigorous testing requirements around each competition, following contact tracing protocols and coordination with local health authorities.
County spokesman Jason Hoppin confirmed that they are responsible for implementing the guidance in the school districts. But, he said the county public health department doesn’t have any orders related to testing, competition, practice or spectators for high school sports.
“They do not need approval from us, they just have to follow the state guidelines,” he said. “We’re just not involved in this process.”
Rodriguez was originally told by CDPH that the district only needed to conduct weekly PCR testing. But as of Monday night, the superintendents were told that the schools no longer need to test as long as the county has an adjusted case rate of less than 7 per 100,000.
To clear up the confusion, Rodriguez teamed up with San Lorenzo Valley Unified Superintendent Laurie Bruton, Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Kris Munro, Scotts Valley Unified Superintendent Tanya Krause and Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah to come up with a county-issued Guideline for High-Contact Sports, which is the same guidelines provided by CDPH.
“We were all working together to get our student-athletes back on the field,” she said. “We all understand the importance of athletics.”
That’s good news for athletic directors across the county such as Aptos High Athletic Director Travis Fox, who at one point thought the football team was going to play for the first time in more than a year.
The Mariners’ game against Santa Cruz High last week fell through when SCCAL officials notified him that the games were being pushed back because of confusion with testing protocols. The two teams instead decided to hold a scrimmage on Saturday afternoon, but that too was eventually canceled.
Instead, the Mariners held a competitive practice on their newly-renovated field at Trevin Dilfer Memorial Stadium.
“I can tell you that the test results did not impact this decision at all,” he said. “It’s just based on the conflicting information regarding frequency of testing.”
According to the California Guidance for Higher Education, both periodic PCR testing as well as daily antigen testing were acceptable. The guidance had also stated that teams can compete without spectators if the schools can provide coronavirus testing and results within a 48 hour period before a game.
St. Francis High, which is not part of the PVUSD, was cleared and approved by its administrators to play last week’s game against Scotts Valley High.
Athletic director Adam Hazel made sure they followed all of the guidelines given to him, starting with one test on March 2 and another two days prior to their game.
They had nearly 100 tests performed on both the varsity and JV teams, cheerleaders, drumline and the entire coaching staff, according to Hazel. The students were given a PCR test, or nose swab test, which is considered to be the most accurate and reliable test for diagnosing Covid.
“The first time we did the testing it went very smoothly, the company was awesome and coach [John] Ausman, our cheer coach and our band director did a great job directing our kids,” he said.
But things quickly changed on March 12 as the schools were notified that they had to look further into the testing procedures before any more competition could take place.
Hazel said he was notified by SCCAL Commissioner Bob Kittle that the JV team had their game on March 13 postponed, adding to the ongoing frustration felt by him and other athletic directors in the area.
“We’re hoping that everything gets set because we’ve been following all the state guidelines and every guideline put in front of us,” he said.
Kittle told the Pajaronian that he was told the situation was taken care of by the districts’ superintendents and the games are going to resume this weekend.
“We should be back in place with some clear directions this week,” he said. “We’re going as scheduled and that’s our plan.”
What’s on tap
Friday, March 19:
• Aptos at Monte Vista Christian, 7:30pm
• Watsonville at Santa Cruz, 7:30pm
Saturday, March 20:
• St. Francis at San Lorenzo Valley, 2pm
• Soquel at Scotts Valley, 2pm
• Harbor at Pajaro Valley, 2pm