By Kiet Do

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – In an abrupt reversal of its own COVID directives announced one day ago, the Santa Clara County Health Department is now allowing youth sports to proceed under current state guidelines.

“Today, to address confusion regarding the State and County directives regarding youth sports, the County updated and consolidated its directives to make clear that (1) competitions between teams is allowed in Santa Clara County to the same degree as allowed by the State and (2) youth sports teams and other outdoor youth activities are not limited to 16-member cohorts,” health officials told KPIX 5 in a statement Wednesday night.

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The guidelines in full can be found here.

Health officials went on to say that the state only allows certain youth sports to be played while the county is in the Purple Tier.

On Tuesday, the county had convened a meeting of school superintendents to inform them of more stringent rules for youth sports. The rules prohibited practice or games between teams, and required “stable groups” or teams to be 25 feet apart, banned the stable groups from gathering indoors, and prohibited traveling beyond county borders.

Superintendents were also informed that all participants, even those within the “stable groups” must remain six feet apart.

Tuesday’s announcement caught districts, athletic programs, and families alike, flat-footed, and drew immediate and widespread condemnation.

Don Austin, superintendent for Palo Alto Unified School District, attended the Tuesday meeting. PAUSD had received multiple assurances that Santa Clara County would follow the state’s less restrictive guidance for youth sports, and was surprised by the county’s sudden announcement, according to Austin.

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“It was changed in one meeting with very little explanation. The County in this case underestimated the reaction that was very predictable for people who understand sports,” said Austin. “I would say that I don’t think everyone (at the county) has the same understanding of the impact of the decision.”

Patrick Judge, longtime basketball coach at Saratoga High School, said the Tuesday announcement left him angered and was a “punch in the gut.”

“There has been no transparency, where did we come up with a 25 foot limitation?” said Judge.

Nelson Gifford, Palo Alto High School’s Athletic Director, and head football coach, said the county’s surprise Tuesday announcement of the more stringent rules damaged its credibility.

“It really undermines the faith in leadership. As a coach, a parent, and athlete, it makes you question, do people actually care about how I feel in my experiences and my goals?” said Gifford.

Members of the Palo Alto High School baseball team expressed sadness before the county announced its reversal, saying the 25 foot distancing rule would have ended their season and any hope of playing in their senior year.

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“Just give us a chance, we won’t let you down. I promise. I promise we’ll do right by the community and do right by each other to act in a very safe way that will allow us to play,” said Dean Hall, a senior at Paly.