After months of tracking decreasing cases of COVID-19, LA County once again saw a surge in related cases beginning in August due to the presence of the Delta variant. It was during this time that LA County reached a “High” level of community transmission, as defined by Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicators, with August alone seeing 14 specific outbreaks in school settings in LA County, with half of these associated with school sports. Many other parts of the country with large outbreaks from the Delta variant are reporting a larger number of children being affected by COVID than with past variants.
Given the increasing risk to children in youth sports, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) published a new protocol for organized youth sports on Tuesday, August 23, 2021. This protocol was updated August 30, 2021, following additional input from community partners, including the LA County Department of Parks and Recreation (LA County Parks). The current version can be found by clicking here.
The new county protocol, effective September 1, 2021, applies to youth recreation sports leagues, club sports, travel sports and sports sponsored by private and public schools serving students in TK-12 schools. The new standards outline several new protocols that youth sports programs are required to follow to prevent COVID transmissions. This new protocol is not intended for adult sports leagues.
As a result, all youth sports activities overseen by LA County Parks will be conducted outdoors in order to adhere to the highest level of safety. Although the new protocol allows indoor youth sports, the risk of COVID transmission is far greater indoors than outdoors. Due to this higher risk of transmission taking place indoors, the protocol requires regular testing of all unvaccinated youth of any age and adult participants in “Moderate” and “High” indoor sports in order to identify cases early and prevent spread. If there is a positive COVID case, all players, staff, coaches, volunteers and contractors (regardless of vaccination status) are required to have a weekly negative test result for two weeks from exposure to the case, which applies to both indoor and outdoor moderate to high risk youth sports. Because of the cost and time-consuming nature of this testing, we believe it will be very difficult for most athletes and coaches to adhere to them.
Since the Delta variant may also be transmitted outdoors in situations where there may be crowding or close contact, particularly with players exerting themselves in a sports setting, the protocol requires weekly testing of unvaccinated participants (including volunteers, coaches and contractors) in outdoor “Moderate” and “High” contact youth sports for leagues with kids that are 12 and older. Testing also must occur within 72 hours of any inter-team competition (i.e. games or matches with opposing teams) and the results must be received prior to when the competition begins.
For these reasons, the LA County Parks has made the difficult decision to postpone youth leagues and tournaments, which were scheduled to begin on Saturday, October 2, to tentatively start in our winter season, which is set to begin December 6. Instead, LA County Parks will now offer sports clinics, which will allow for physical distancing and masking outdoors while still allowing youth to practice skills and drills.
This change in youth sports programming will continue until further notice to protect youth and adults against COVID related transmissions of the virus. The sports clinic model will allow youth to continue to safely enjoy the many benefits sports offers. All participants’ parent/guardian will continue to be required to sign and acknowledge LA County Parks COVID acceptance of risk and liability waiver form prior to starting a sports clinic at the time of online registration.
To protect youth against the spread of COVID, all County employees, volunteers, coaches and contractors will be required to be fully vaccinated by October 1, 2021. The vaccination mandate will improve safe play.
Organizations who rent and/or are a core or community partner seeking access to LA County Parks athletic fields and amenities must sign a COVID Agreement form that mandates adherence to DPH’s guidance’s, including any future changes or updates to the protocols. The COVID Agreement and required checklist can be found here and must be fully executed before league play commences.
LA County Parks remains hopeful that in the weeks to come, COVID cases will decrease significantly and DPH will be able to adjust the testing protocol, making safe league play more achievable. Department staff are in regular contact with LA County officials and will work quickly to make programming adjustments as COVID cases improve.
Thank you for your understanding and cooperation as we continue to adjust youth sports to combat the COVID pandemic. For information on COVID vaccination clinics and other updates, please visit: parks.lacounty.gov/covid-19-requirements.