The first game under the lights last Thursday night.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID K-12

Upon further review: No COVID testing will be necessary for football, county school officials determine

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education took its interpretation of the state guidance one step further and clarified that testing would not be necessary for football as long as positivity rates continued to plummet.

Santa Cruz County’s high school football coaches and athletic directors had groused that COVID testing should not be mandated by the state once the county moved into the red tier, as it did last week.

On Tuesday that interpretation of the California Public Health Department’s guidance became the official guidance that will govern the mini five-game season the eight-county high schools will begin in full Friday.

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“We had reached out to CDPH on several occasions to clarify the issue,” County Office of Education Superintendent Faris Sabbah said in a text message Tuesday afternoon. “If our adjusted case is below 7, then we do not need to conduct testing.”

The county’s rate had dropped to 6.6 cases per 100,000 people last week and continued to dip with a rate of 5.1 cases per 100,000 on Tuesday. This means the county is on track to move into the orange tier in a couple weeks if current trends continue.

A football season that was briefly put on hold for Santa Cruz County high schools on Friday was set back on course by the COE on Monday.

“There should be no more interruptions,” Sabbah told Lookout on Monday while consulting with his high school district superintendents to finalize guidance to be sent out to each of the eight public schools that play in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League.

“We’re very, very happy to get this back going for the kids,” said Soquel High athletic director Stu Walters.

Monday’s move ended a weekend of frustration for athletic officials, players and parents, who had been prepping for a season that might not have occurred. “I’m happy the leadership of our superintendents took charge and made athletics accessible to all our county’s student-athletes,” SCCAL Commissioner Bob Kittle said via text.

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This week’s new guidance from the COE will enable games to go on as scheduled after they were suspended Friday amid confusion about state of California guidelines that govern a safe return to high school sports.

The primary sticking point stemmed from language in the CDPH’s updated guidance on March 4 that was triggered by a lawsuit in San Diego.

The interpretation by Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel was that the same guidelines for indoor sports to resume with rigorous testing also applied to outdoor high-contact sports. That would have required daily testing of players, coaches and support staff, rather than once a week.

But in the other counties that make up the Central Coast Section, the CDPH guidelines were interpreted differently. CCS Commissioner David Grissom told Lookout on Friday: “When all of our counties have followed the guidelines in the same manner except for one, that leaves you scratching your head.”

For his part, Sabbah now is siding with his fellow educators, after weighing Newel’s interpretation of the state’s guidelines. The ultimate decision on how to interpret things rests with him, according to Newel.

“The CDPH guidance is problematic — it does have contradictory information, it does mention football in there, but we believe it was intended for indoor sports,” Sabbah said. “Our interpretation is that if we did a weekly test for our football players that we would be in compliance with our understanding of the guidance.”

Sabbah indicated Tuesday that his communication with CDPH had confirmed that understanding.

For high-contact indoor sports such as basketball that would be subject to daily testing, Sabbah said the logistics will be “a tall order” but that school officials will keep studying how things could get done. “If we can figure out a way to make it happen indoors we will,” he said.

As for football, a season that some feared was tenuous as scrimmages were canceled with little notice on Friday is back with the ball in hand. An added bonus for families: Immediate household members will be allowed to attend games.

Here’s a copy of the updated guidance that Sabbah’s office sent out Tuesday: