Outdoor youth sports in California can resume if COVID rates allow

California public health officials have loosened the rules for youth sports to be played during the pandemic.

New guidance released Friday says all outdoor sports can resume in counties where COVID-19 case rates are at or below 14 people per 100,000.

The new guidance clears the way for sports like baseball, softball, gymnastics and cheerleading to resume Feb. 26 for at least 27 counties, including places that are in the most restrictive tier of the state’s virus designations.

High-contact outdoor sports like football, basketball and rugby can also resume under that standard, but only if all coaches and players 13 and older get tested once a week. Test results must be available within 24 hours of competition.

"We can get youth sports moving in California," Gov. Gavin Newsom said. "We can get competition going again. With caveats." 

One of the San Francisco 49ers' quarterbacks, Josh Johnson, said that not being able to play sports has taken a tremendous toll on him.

"Sports is pretty much everything," Johnson said, saying his parents and many relatives are all coaches.

He said that sports has been a "gateway out of the struggles" he endured living in Oakland. "I'm just excited to go out and see these kids play," he said. 

Johnson attended Oakland Tech High school and is cousins with Marshawn Lynch. 

A total of 27 counties currently have case rates at or below 14 people per 100,000. The biggest is Santa Clara County, which includes the city of San Jose. An additional 16 counties have case rates between 14 and 20 people per 100,000.

An additional 16 counties have case rates between 14 and 20 people per 100,000 and could soon meet the new standard. That includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno counties.

Indoor sports cannot resume.

Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state’s public health officer, cited declining rates of infection across California, which "Let Them Play'" advocates have been anticipating all week after nearly two months of negotiations.

"Youth sports are important to our children’s physical and mental health, and our public health approach has worked to balance those benefits against COVID-19 risks," Aragón said in a statement. "With case rates and hospitalizations declining across California, we are allowing outdoor competition to resume, with modifications and steps to reduce risk, in counties where case rates are lower."

Let the Play CA and Golden State Coaches Association have more than 60,000 student-athlete members and parents who have been pushing Newsom and legislators to start youth sports immediately in California.

Leaders include Brad Hensley, Coach Patrick Walsh of Serra High School, Coach Ron Gladnick Of Torrey Pines High School, and Coach Justin Alumbaugh of De La Salle High School.

Adam Beam from the Associated Press contributed to this KTVU report.