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Gaspar's protocol limits practices to "stable sports youth group" of no more than 12 team members. Courtesy photo
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Supervisors OK request to reopen sports clubs, religious services

REGION — Supervisor Kristin Gaspar won approval this week of a plan that petitions the governor to allow recreational and club sports teams to resume practice and drills in anticipation of returning to the field this summer.

If approved in Sacramento, the plan would allow the 215 organized sports leagues in San Diego County to practice in small groups if they abide by a health protocol that requires organizers to screen employees and volunteers for coronavirus symptoms and rigorously sanitize equipment and facilities, among other standards.

The San Diego Board of Supervisors voted, 4-1, to approve the sports program on Tuesday as part of a larger plan to accelerate the reopening of certain facilities and activities shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are in day 65 of the public health order for San Diego County. We’ve seen a decline in the mental health of our young people,” Gaspar told The Coast News before the May 19 meeting.

“They are spending a lot of time on electronic devices and overnight their worlds were turned upside down — everything they enjoyed was taken from them including their social circles. It is critical that we return these kids to some sort of normalcy, [and get them] back on the field will restore some sort of normalcy to their lives. It is important to get these kids moving.”

Previewed to sports league representatives in a virtual meeting last weekend, Gaspar’s protocol limits practices to “stable sports youth group” of no more than 12 team members who must stay at least six feet away from each other in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines for slowing the virus’ spread.

Parents will be discouraged from watching practice but, if they do, must wait in designated areas and observe social distancing.

“The goal was to come up with a safe plan to return to practice and drills. It’s really a baby step back into normalcy for these kids,” Gaspar said.

The sports reopening program is an element of a formal letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom in support of a pilot program to further open such facilities as youth and sports clubs, salons, fitness clubs and outdoor religious services.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher cast the sole opposing vote,  saying he believes the county is ready to responsibly reopen businesses in “Stage 2″‘ consistent with the guidelines Newsom outlined Monday.

However, “given we have not even opened ‘Stage 2’ businesses, I do not believe it is time to call on the state to allow the immediate opening of ‘Stage 3’ entities including higher-risk activities like gatherings and businesses with high exposure, intensity and duration of risk,” Fletcher said.

Newsom has said he believes the county will be ready to move into “Stage 3” at the beginning of June, Fletcher added.

Newsom said Monday county governments should have more discretion in terms of reopening certain types of facilities and eliminated a particularly contentious requirement that counties record no coronavirus-related deaths for 14 consecutive days before entering “Stage 2” reopening.

Officials said that goal, in particular, was unreachable in large urban counties such as San Diego, which reported 222 deaths from 3.3 million residences since the pandemic began but had not passed any two-day period without at least once death since March 29.

Supervisor Jim Desmond called the county’s pilot plan “a step in the right direction.”

Desmond said if the county doesn’t allow for more facilities to reopen, the health crisis will only expand based on how the stay-at-home mandate is affecting people and unemployment will increase.

The move won support from numerous business owners who called in during the teleconference meeting. Other residents who called in urged the board to take any reopening slowly to avoid another major outbreak in cases and consider how the pandemic has impacted vulnerable communities.

Helen Robbins-Meyer, the county’s chief executive officer, said that until Newsom’s team has reviewed data associated with Stage 2 openings and is assured there have been no significant spikes in coronavirus cases “then, and only then, will he declare the state has entered into Stage 3.”

“We remain committed to abiding by the state’s order,” she said, adding that she believes San Diego County is uniquely qualified to meet some Stage 3 criteria because of its practices.

“I cannot say the governor will approve this pilot,” Robbins-Meyer said, but if he does even approve part of it, the county can move forward.

The board voted after hearing an update on the county’s efforts to contain further spread of the coronavirus. Health officials said the county is ready to move further into Stage 2 of the California Resiliency Roadmap. Robbins-Meyer said the county meets Stage 2 acceleration criteria.

According to the county, that criteria include:

— Less than 5% of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations over a seven-day period or no more than 20 COVID hospitalizations on any single day in the past 14 days;

— Fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days or less than 8% testing positive in the past seven days;

— A capacity to be able to test 1.5 per every 1,000 residents and at least 15 staff per 100,000 county population trained and available for contact tracing, and;

— Hospital capacity for a possible surge of 35% of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 cases in addition to providing usual care for other patients.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the county’s decision was welcome news.

“We have a real opportunity to demonstrate that leadership and open businesses such as hair salons,” Faulconer said. “Small businesses are ready to get back on their feet.”

The board’s actions also won praise from state Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee.

“The last eight weeks have taken a devastating toll on small businesses, their workers and families throughout the region,” Jones said.

“After some prodding by a lot of us, including Supervisors Desmond and (Kristin) Gaspar, the full board is finally starting to ‘get it.'”

City News Service contributed reporting to this story.

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