COVID Surge Tightens Restrictions for Athletes

First published in the Jan. 8 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

With coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County surging to levels higher than last winter, high school athletics have once more been hamstrung.
The County Department of Public Health updated its guidelines and tightened restrictions for youth sports on Jan. 3, which includes high school teams.
Another notable announcement came from John Burroughs High School’s co-athletic director Keith Knoop, who told the Leader that spectators would be limited for indoor competitions.
“Starting next week, if we are lucky enough to play games, we are not going to have any spectators for the first week,” Knoop said.
“The Pacific League is not going to have fans for the first week; it was a league decision that all the schools agreed upon,” he said. “We want to do whatever we can as a league and as schools to make sure the kids get to play, and if that means not allowing fans on a week-to-week basis, that was our consensus and there was no pushback at all.”
Two of the more notable county guidelines are masking requirements for moderate- and high-risk outdoor sports and a seven-day suspension of all team activities if there has been an outbreak of four or more epidemiologically linked cases within 14 days.
The guidelines state: “All coaches, staff, volunteers, referees and officials when working with teams in settings where distancing is not feasible, and regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask at all times.”
Additionally, for spectators in outdoor settings with fewer than 5,000 people it is recommended but not required to mask where social distancing is not possible.
Water polo, soccer and basketball, the three main winter sports, are classified as high-risk outdoor sports except for the latter, which is held indoors. Therefore, per the revised guidelines, the participants of these competitions should be masked during competition and practice.
“Masks are also required while on the sidelines, in team meetings, and within locker rooms and weight rooms. When actively practicing, conditioning or competing in indoor sports, masks are required by participants as practicable,” the county’s guidelines state. “When actively practicing, conditioning or competing in outdoor moderate- and high-risk sports where distancing is not possible, masks are required by participants, as practicable.”
The second notable update is the seven-day suspension of all team activities if there is a breakout within 14 days. The team will require L.A. Public Health approval before resuming activities; however, the language of the guidelines allows for individual training to continue during the suspension period as long as those individuals comply with quarantine or isolation orders as applicable.
“Our district office is updating the mask policy for our schools,” Burbank High School’s athletic director Patrick McMenamin said in an interview. “The enforcement of masks is now another part of game management along with all usual elements of athletic contests.”
Additionally, all players, coaches and staff of any age require a weekly negative test if their vaccination status is not up-to-date. According to the county, up-to-date vaccination status refers to individuals receiving their booster dose when eligible or completing a primary Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine series.
McMenamin announced on Twitter that several of Burbank’s winter sports were postponed the first week of January and would be rescheduled, if possible, at a later date. Similarly, Knoop confirmed a slate of games for Burroughs had also been postponed.
To allow greater flexibility, the California Interscholastic Federation announced on Wednesday the suspension of Bylaw 504.M for the remainder of the winter season, a move that permits schools to schedule games on Sundays.
“The athletic directors of our league are looking into alternate schedules to accommodate our winter sports if teams are unable to play when scheduled,” McMenamin said. “We will be revisiting schedules on a weekly basis until schedules stabilize.”
Knoop and McMenamin said they are doing everything in their power to return their student-athletes to their respective sports safely and quickly.