The continuing threat of COVID-19 has hung like a dark cloud over youth sports as seasons have gotten underway this month, and teams of all levels are taking steps to mitigate the risk of exposure to the highly contagious Delta variant.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that new COVID cases among children throughout the country rose 10% between Aug. 19 and Sept. 2, emphasizing that unvaccinated kids are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of their infection.
Sonoma County student athletes may be better equipped to handle the ongoing threat, with three-quarters of all eligible residents now fully vaccinated.
However, since the start of high school football season on Aug. 27, the coronavirus has hit home for some Sonoma County teams, causing game cancellations or postponements due to COVID-related issues.
Last week, the football schedule for the Windsor Jaguars was altered when their Sept. 3 opponent, Eureka, pulled out of their scheduled game after several members of their team were forced to quarantine for 10 days. That game was rescheduled for Sept. 25.
Cloverdale High School also saw the cancellation of their scheduled game with St. Vincent on Sept. 4 due to COVID-related issues.
Although most schools have navigated the COVID minefield unscathed so far, many are going the extra mile to minimize the risk of infection.
“We haven't had a cancellation by us yet due to COVID because most of our players are getting vaccinated and are then allowed to continue if showing no symptoms,” Windsor High School Athletic Director Jamie Williams said. “Our district has organized testing sites every day at various locations for families to test as needed and soon we hope to have daily on-site testing available at WHS.”
The current COVID guidelines set forth by the Sonoma County Department of Public Health recommend regular COVID-19 screening and testing in unvaccinated youth and staff involved in indoor high-risk sports and extracurriculars. If resources allow, schools are recommended to test for all sports.
Masks are required for athletes, coaches and spectators for all indoor sports, with the exception of stunt cheerleaders or wrestlers in competition, because a mask is considered a choking hazard.
In addition, Windsor High School sports teams have gone even further in an effort to keep kids safe.
“We have separated practices by team levels so as to not shut entire programs down if a team has to cancel,” Williams noted. “We continue to be mindful of using best practices as we did last year, with washing hands, wearing masks and not sharing water bottles, etc.”
As vaccines gain full FDA approval, protocols and mandates for student/athletes are expected to change, with each county or school district likely to set their own guidelines.
“Right now our only mandate is that indoor sports (participants) must wear masks while practicing and competing,” West County Director of Athletics Joe Ellwood said. “There are some vax requirements that will go into effect soon but we’re waiting for clarification from our district on the procedures. My guess is that we will need to do weekly COVID checks on those players/coaches that are not vaccinated.”