LA County working on new guidelines for high school sports that might require COVID-19 testing, masks
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) is working on updated guidance for youth sports that is supposedly going to require weekly COVID-19 testing for high school sports in the “moderate” and “high risk” categories.
The changes were made online Friday, released to school administrators on Sunday and announced Monday morning, but were pulled back Monday afternoon.
The county informed schools that the revisions were “temporarily taken down while a new Health Officer Order is being finalized.”
An update, with final revisions, is expected to be released Tuesday.
In the revisions posted online over the weekend, the LADPH said the guidelines were being updated to “enhance safety for participants, coaches, and communities, and lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission within their teams.”
Fall sports that are in the “moderate” and “high risk” categories are football, girls volleyball and boys water polo. Volleyball is in the moderate risk category, while football and water polo are labeled high risk. Cross country and girls golf are “low risk.”
“It’s certainly a challenge for us to test,” Sierra Canyon football coach Jon Ellinghouse said. “It can be logistically difficult, but if the county says to do it, we have to do it.”
Private schools like Sierra Canyon, Alemany and Crespi have hired outside labs to test athletes. It’s a benefit that some private schools, with more resources at their disposal, have over most public schools.
Crespi already has a weekly testing process in place with a lab that can turn results around in 24 hours, according to athletic director Brian Bilek.
“With the new guidance for sports, we’re just increasing the volume of testing,” he said.
The county’s new guidance also states: “When indoors, require all participants, regardless of vaccination status, to bring and wear masks. Youth sports participants must wear a face mask even while engaging in physical activity in any indoor setting.”
This means volleyball players will have to wear a mask while they play. That revision bothers Alemany girls volleyball coach Morgan Wijay.
“I believe the oxygen intake when wearing a masks drops to around 30%. That makes it really hard to be an athlete and wear a mask,” Wijay said. “However, if this is what needs to be done to move forward, of course we’ll do it. I just don’t want to get shut down again.”
Having weekly testing for some sports isn’t new to the schools. It was required by the state last spring until the region’s COVID-19 level dropped significantly (adjusted case rate below 14 positive cases per 100,000).
The Los Angeles Unified School District never stopped weekly testing. The district has been testing teachers, staff, coaches and students weekly since the new school year began this month.
“Nothing new for us,” Chatsworth athletic director Jonathan Sheriff said.
The revised guidance states that “testing must be performed within 48 hours of any inter-team competition and results must be available before the competition begins or the athlete or staff member may not be present at the competition.”
Chatsworth has testing available on its campus on Wednesdays, which works for a Friday football game, in theory, if a result is delivered in time.
San Pedro athletic director Anthony Rogosic said his school does testing on campus on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“Weekly testing is required for all students, athletes, teachers and coaches,” he said. “Students and teachers are screened every morning through the LAUSD Daily Pass App.”
While schools have experience with the testing requirement, it can create a logistical issue — receiving the results in time — that can lead to last-minute cancellations of games or events.
Mary Star football coach Jason Gelber would prefer to see testing done early in the week, so that if a team has to go into COVID-19 protocols and has to cancel a game, other teams can line up a new opponent.
“I just hope most teams can do it on Monday to at least get results by Tuesday-Wednesday, so it’s not a last-minute thing and the other school can have time to find a last-minute replacement,” Gelber said.
“We did test the team two weeks ago as a precaution, and every single player and coach came back negative. We’re following all the latest protocols and they change daily.”