Back in the game — the return of youth sports in California

By Emily Kim

Inspire Diagnostics is proud to announce that we have partnered with Test Today CA to offer a recently-launched program providing free Covid testing (leveraging CARES Act funds and insurance) to student athletes returning to their sport. This program makes testing accessible to all students in the state regardless of socioeconomic status. If a county’s case rate is within the required threshold, students should be allowed to play — and Test Today CA/Inspire Diagnostics partnership makes this possible.

To provide some background, when the pandemic struck the state of California and youth sports were indefinitely put on hold, students, parents, and coaches alike were devastated. “Let Them Play California” was founded in response to challenge this ban. Started by high school coach Brad Hensley, his wife Kristen Hensley, and high school coach Ken Elliott, the movement has since gained the support of over 50,000 members, including California State Rep. Laurie Davies and a handful of state legislators.  

On January 25th, 2021, Rep. Laurie Davies and five other state legislators wrote a letter to Governor Newsom asking for county health officials to have the discretion to allow youth sports again as long as necessary safety measures are taken. They included a poignant statement towards the end of the letter, saying, “We must act quickly before we lose an entire generation of students.” And they were not exaggerating. The restrictions on youth sports have taken an immense mental and emotional toll on students, in addition to negatively impacting their future collegiate careers. Students have become increasingly depressed, gotten into more trouble with the police, and seen athletic scholarships disappear before their eyes because of their inability to play. For many students, sports are their everything, and without it, they simply don’t know what to do.  

So students themselves are taking action. At the end of January, Nicholas Gardinera and Cameron Woosley, both San Diego high-school seniors, filed a lawsuit against Governor Newsom and the state for prohibiting youth sports when 47 other states have allowed such sports to resume. The students, backed by coaches, athletic directors, and others, claim that, for the states in which youth sports have resumed, there is little evidence that the resumption has led to substantial virus transmission or hospitalizations. 

The lawsuit also compares youth sports to professional and collegiate sports, noting how professional and collegiate teams have been allowed to play as long as they follow strict safety protocols such as wearing masks, social distancing, and having regular contact tracing. But high school teams were not even given this option; ever since the pandemic started one year ago, in California, youth sports have been out of session. The lawsuit highlights this disparity, emphasizing that “if a sport is safe for college students to play when following certain protocols, it is no less safe where high-school student athletes to follow these same protocols.”

And the lawsuit seems to be working. From February 19th, outdoor sports were allowed to resume, with extra safety precautions, as long as the county’s case rate fell below 14 per 100,000 residents. Now, indoor sports are also permitted. The California Department of Public Health just released new guidelines for this change, requiring youth sports teams to follow the same precautions as collegiate and professional teams. 

These precautions include weekly testing for student athletes — a requirement for outdoor sports until their county’s case rate falls below seven cases per 100,000 residents. For indoor sports, weekly testing for athletes will be mandatory until their county’s case rate falls below one per 100,000 residents. All student athletes must also present a negative Covid test within 48 hours of a game, and anyone not directly participating in a game must wear masks.

The state will provide Covid testing for the “close contact” sports water polo, football, and rugby. But for others, this is where Inspire Diagnostics’ partnership with Test Today CA comes into play. Any student athlete playing any sport will be able to get tested — no out-of-pocket cost required. 

Thus, with the lifting of restrictions on youth sports and Test Today CA dispelling fears over testing accessibility, the future for student athletes is looking bright. Sports will look different during this Covid-era. But the most important thing is that students  — young people who are the most passionate on the field, on the court — will be able to (safely) do what they love once again. 

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