California Department of Public Health Issues Guidance On Indoor and Outdoor Sports


On December 14, 2020, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) issued long awaited guidance related to youth and adult recreational sports.  The order explicitly applies to “all organized youth sports,” including school based programs (such as high school sports) and programs sponsored by community or private organizations.  Notably, the guidance also applies to all adult recreational sports programs, but not college or professional sports.

In crafting the guidance, CDPH focuses on what it describes as “Sports Risk Profiles,” which generally assess and categorize a sport’s general risk of transmission of COVID-19 based on the amount of close physical interaction, amount of physical exertion, length of interaction, and whether the sport occurs indoors or outdoors.  The Sports Risk Profiles do not apply to individual conditioning or exercise. 

CDPH advises that outdoor activities allowing for consistent wearing of face coverings and physical distancing are lower risk than indoor activities involving close contact, high exertion, and limited ability to wear face coverings due to the probability of participants expelling and transmitting respiratory particles to others.  It further states competition between teams involving mixed groups and outside communities, contributes to the possible spread of COVID-19. 

Using these factors, CDPH provides recommendations for use of face coverings, physical distancing, and hygiene/equipment sanitation.  Specifically, CDPH recommends (but does not require) that participants in organized sports should wear face coverings during activity even when heavy exertion occurs, both indoors and outdoors, unless the covering would become a hazard.  All participants who are not currently involved in the activity (e.g. on the sideline) must wear a face covering.  Subject to other CDPH guidance for use of face coverings, individuals observing the sporting event must also wear a face covering.

As for physical distancing, CDPH recommends that to the extent possible, all participants should remain at least six feet apart (including those on the sideline).  Observers must stay at least six feet from non-household members. 

Sports participants sharing equipment should ensure that appropriate measures are taken to disinfect the equipment before use by another individual.  Where the equipment is shared during the activity (e.g. balls), participants should disinfect their hands before play, during breaks, and at the conclusion of the activity.

All indoor venues for sports are limited as stated in the CDPH Industry Guidance on Gym and Fitness Centers; link here.  Notably, this means that events scheduled to take place in a location with a County Risk Level of “Purple” (a.k.a. Tier 1) cannot occur indoors.  In other permitted locations, the indoor venue should increase ventilation as much as possible.

Permitted Youth Activity by County Tier

CDPH has expressly stated that physical conditioning, practice, skill-building, and training that can be conducted outdoors, with six feet of physical distance between participants, and within stable cohorts, are authorized regardless of county tier status, and may occur even in counties under the Regional Stay at Home Order.  These are the only activities permitted in counties subject to the Regional Stay at Home Order.

Inter-team competitions (between two teams) will not be allowed anywhere in California until January 25, 2021, at the earliest.  The return to competition date will be reassessed by January 4, 2021.  CDPH also stated that teams must not participate in out-of-state tournaments to avoid multistate outbreaks.

Once inter-team competition is no longer barred on a statewide basis, competition between teams can only proceed if both teams are (1) located in the same county and the sport is authorized by the CDPH’s “Table: Youth and Adult Recreational Sports* Permitted by Current Tier of County” or (2) located in immediately adjacent counties and the sport is authorized (per the CDPH Table) in both counties.  This link provides helpful information on what is permitted by your county.

CDPH has also placed a general prohibition on tournaments or events involving more than two teams, but limited exceptions may be made with authorization from the local health department when the sport is one that normally involves multiple teams (e.g. track and field, cross-country; golf; skiing/snowboarding; tennis; and swimming/diving).

Click here to read the full CDPH guidance.

Please feel free to reach out to the Authors of this Alert or your regular AALRR counsel with questions relating to this new guidance.

This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

© 2020 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo


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