REGION — Let Them Play CA, a group of parents, coaches and students in California organized online, continues to push for state and local officials to allow high school and youth sports to continue as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers in San Diego County.
The online group was co-founded on Facebook by Brad Hensley, a local San Diego father of a football player at Mission Hills High School. The group was started just six weeks ago but they say they are as close as they have ever been to getting student-athletes back onto the playing field.
“Six weeks ago we weren’t even an organization, but now we’re having daily correspondence with the governor and his staff,” Hensley said. “Our heads are down and we still have time to save the season for the seniors and get these kids back on the field so we continue to work.”
The group says they have collected from 275 California high school football practices that show transmission rates of the COVID-19 virus among athletes and coaches to be low to non-existent.
It is unclear how accurate those numbers might be, but experts like Dr. Richard Garfein, an infectious disease epidemiologist and a professor in the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health at UCSD, say it all comes down to the students, coaches and parents, as well as the type of sport being played to determine how safe it is to play.
“Firstly, it’s really important to know what the prevalence is in your community,” Garfein said. “The other factors are what sport it is, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, how it’s being played, and how careful the coaches, parents and players are being in terms of maintaining proper distance, wearing masks when they can, handwashing, those types of things.”
According to the CDC website, San Diego County’s current 7-day average of new cases per 100,000 persons is around 220. This rate puts the county under the CDC’s “high transmission” tier under new guidelines for reopening schools the public agency released Friday.
Under that tier, the CDC suggests that all “sports and extracurricular activities are virtual only.”
Hensley noted these are guidelines given by the CDC and the final determination is left to the state.
“As parents, we wouldn’t recommend doing anything that is unsafe for kids,” Hensley said. “We do know though that the current environment [of not playing youth sports] is unsafe for them.”
The Let Them Play CA Facebook group, where much of the organizing takes place currently, has nearly 60,000 members where parents often post about the issues their kids are having while home without the ability to play sports with their schools. Also found on the page are documents containing stats they have collected regarding the transmission of the virus and the mental health state of kids without sports to fall back on.
The page also has been prone to false or harmful information regarding the use of masks or the COVID-19 virus in general. In one post asking parents for suggestions on a type of mask for their child to use while playing volleyball, several group members suggested using different varieties of mesh masks with large openings that do not protect the wearer from the virus.
While Hensley says his group advocates safety first for the student-athletes, it can be difficult to keep that kind of information off the page.
“We were getting anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 new members a day, and we wanted that because our strength is our size and scale,” Hensley said. “This is such a tough issue for parents. Conversations can go sideways pretty quick. But we continue to work with our members to get them to understand that these are the main guidelines.”
Hensley also said the group is confident that once all is said and done, and parents and athletes know the rules, they will fully comply and conform with them once back playing their sports.
Full compliance will be key according to Dr. Garfein to playing youth sports safely.
“Are you willing to, as a parent, wear a mask when you’re sitting there watching your child play or while you’re waiting for them during their practice? Are your kids willing to wear a mask whenever they possibly can? Are you making sure the kids aren’t sharing equipment and if they are making sure you sanitize it in between use?” Garfein said. “If you’re willing to do all those things then you really can reduce the risk of youth sports and they can be played relatively safely.”
Let Them Play CA says they are in constant contact with local and state officials and hope to hear an official statement about their request to lift the ban on youth sports soon from Sacramento.