San Diego just misses high school sports resumption list

San Diego County will not be allowed to resume outdoor high school sports Friday.
(Mark Zeigler/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Region remains in purple tier for another week with case rate at 15 per 100,000 residents, double what’s needed for red tier


San Diego County narrowly missed out on joining 33 counties that will be allowed to resume outdoor high school sports Friday, Feb. 26, though a recent temporary restraining order muddies those waters significantly.

According to the state’s latest weekly tier ratings list, San Diego posted a score of 15 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, a number that is just one case greater than the limit of 14-per-100,000 announced late last week.

San Diego Section CIF Commissioner Joe Heinz remained optimistic that the critical number will be in bounds before football games start on March 11.

“We’re on our timeline, but I wish we were at 14 today so we could give a little more guidance to sports like field hockey,” Heinz said.

Los Angeles, Orange and San Francisco counties came out on the better side of the ledger with case rates of 12.3, 11.9 and 5.2 respectively.

The update comes as steadily decreasing daily new case totals have many across the region, and the state, itching for a return to the red tier, which would give businesses greater leeway in serving customers, allowing restaurants, for example, to once again serve some patrons indoors.

To move to the red tier, San Diego County will need to sustain a case rate of no more than 7 cases per 100,000 residents. While it has shown significant progress in reaching that goal in recent weeks — the number sat at 34.2 in late January — the number of new infections popping up, as measured over a rolling seven-day period that looks back one week, has not yet brought the average low enough.

But the situation is continuing to look better and better with 454 new cases listed in Tuesday’s coronavirus report, the second-straight day the number was under 500, a far cry from the days, right around the dawning of the new year when such totals regularly surpassed the 3,000 mark, sometimes going over 4,000.

San Diego County had a fresh positive record in Tuesday’s report that indicated that the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care beds across the region Monday dipped below 200 for the first time since Nov. 30.

While there remain concerns of new, more easily spread coronavirus variants taking over as early as next month, the status of the vaccination fight against currently dominant types improved Tuesday with the county health department announcing that it has started receiving shipments of 80,000 doses delayed last week by winter weather. Rescheduling efforts, the county said, are underway.

The state’s tiered reopening structure and its impact on youth sports has caused some controversy. New guidance from the state last week came just before a judge in San Diego granted a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit filed by senior football players at Scripps Ranch High and Mission Hills High schools.

The restraining order, issued Friday, Feb. 19, by Superior Court Judge Earl Maas, allows high school youth sports to resume as long as they “follow the same or similar COVID-19 protocols imposed for competition in professional and/or collegiate sports.”

But state regulations for those elevated levels of competition set a higher bar of participation with collegiate rules specifying that teams must compete “without spectators” and can only happen when schools work with a lab that “can provide COVID-19 testing and results within 48 hours of competition for high-risk contact sports.”

Though there is no universal price list for COVID testing, it is clear that it could add up quickly for leagues with hundreds or even thousands of participants. The clinics inside most CVS drug stores list the cost of a rapid-result coronavirus test at $120 per person.

On Tuesday, Feb. 23, Heinz, the CIF section director, expressed those concerns in a public statement that notes the ruling “appears to require our member schools to apply the more rigorous and costly COVID-19 protocols of our local San Diego professional and intercollegiate sports teams.”

“This decision may have unintentionally increased the costs of COVID-19 protocols for our member schools,” Heinz said. “Equally concerning is the real prospect that the order will create a two-tiered system within the section whereby communities and schools with the financial means are able to comply with the COVID-19 protocols of professional and intercollegiate sports teams, while those communities and schools without the financial means to fund such protocols will be left unable to meet the requirements of the order.”

There have been some indications that local club leagues have taken the restraining order as confirmation that they can simply resume competition. Mike Workman, director of the county’s communications department, said public health order enforcement has not yet decided how to handle leagues that resume play but do not comply with collegiate-level testing and spectator requirements.

“We are seeking direction from the court, and we are kind of in limbo at the moment about how this will move forward,” Workman said.

Not making the cut this week does not necessarily have an immediate effect on football because teams are able to resume practice Friday, Feb. 26, even if they are not yet cleared to compete. The California Department of Public Health updates its case rate list every Tuesday, so there will be several more opportunities to dip below the 14-per-100,000 mark before the first games occur March 11 through March 13. The state has made it clear that once a program is cleared to resume, they will be able to continue even if their county’s case rate subsequently exceeds 14.

Cross country is already underway with swimming and diving, as well as tennis and boys and girls golf, already set to begin competition.

Indoor sports such as volleyball still do not have a definite criteria to resume.

Heinz said that his office is “still working with the county.”

“There are a lot of moving pieces with the court case and the CDPH guidelines.”

Counties listed at or under the 14-case threshold include: Alameda, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Imperial, Lassen, Los Angeles, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Placer, Plumas, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Trinity, Tuolumne and Yolo.

— Paul Sisson and John Maffei are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune