A new Sonoma County mandate that limits gatherings to curb the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant COVID-19 does not spell the end of high school indoor sports this year, an official said on Monday.
Basketball and wrestling games will still take place, even though the county has capped attendance at 50, North Bay League commissioner Jan Smith Billing said.
Mid-level basketball games are made up of two teams of at least 10 players. Combined with two coaches and referees, there is still room in the gymnasiums for spectators.
“I think it’s perfectly practical to do 50 or less,” Smith Billing said, adding that “the number of spectators for each player would be limited to parents or guardians.”
Sonoma County health official Dr Sundari Mase issued an order on Monday limiting indoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 people and outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 100 people.
She also urged residents of the county to stay at home as much as possible over the next 30 days, and suggested that they also reduce their interactions with people outside their homes.
“Our case rates are at their highest level since the start of the pandemic and our hospitalizations are also increasing at an alarming rate,” Mase said in a recorded message released Monday to residents of Sonoma County. “We are seeing widespread transmission among unvaccinated groups, as well as some transmission among vaccinated individuals.”
Smith Billing said the county’s decision to limit gatherings was not unexpected. She added that this “makes perfect sense”.
Cancellations and postponements were common among North Bay high school basketball games this month due to the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.
Last week, more than 30 high school basketball games were missed in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties due to the pandemic.
Due mainly to the omicron variant, over the past two weeks, Sonoma County’s case rate has risen from 24.4 per 100,000 to over 121 new cases per 100,000 per day and is expected to continue rising in January.
Meanwhile, the county’s test positivity rate hit an all-time high of 16.5% this week from the previous high of 9.7% during this pandemic.
The continuing increase was to be discussed in a meeting with high school athletic directors on Wednesday.
Monday’s health order comes into effect on Wednesday morning and will remain in effect until February 11.
The limit on gatherings particularly impacts high school athletic competitions, music and theater performances, dances, fundraising events and in-person assemblies, according to the Sonoma County Office of Education.
This does not apply to normal classroom or recreational activities.
Officials point out that the 50-person cap applies to the total number of people under one roof and not just spectators.
“That’s a total number of 50 people in the entire room,” said Eric Wittmershaus, communications director for the county education office.
Spectators will need to be masked and assigned to seats based on current pandemic social distancing guidelines, according to the county.
Smith Billing recalled that similar precautions had been put in place previously. Spectators, she said, would be escorted out of gyms at the end of matches before another group was allowed in.
One downside, Smith Billing added, is that it limits fundraising opportunities for schools that typically take place at sporting events. But, she said, health and safety is what matters most.
“Not having a contest with spectators is a financial blow, but we are getting used to it now and the emphasis is not on finances; it’s about ensuring the safety of people, ”she said.
You can reach editor Colin Atagi at [email protected] On Twitter @colin_atagi.