Reopening Update: CDPH Becomes the Fun Police

Brandon Ristoff

Policy Analyst

Brandon Ristoff
March 31, 2021

Reopening Update: CDPH Becomes the Fun Police

In some parts of the state, football is finally coming back. While this is going to be an unusual football season, high school football fans were looking forward to supporting their friends and family members on the football field. But in a surprise move, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) created guidelines that confused high school sports fans and the resulting fallout shows the arbitrariness of many of the COVID-19 regulations created by the state.

If you asked anyone on the street what they expected the guidance to be for having fans in a stadium for high school games, the most common answer would probably be around 20% full, which is the capacity number for many college and professional football games.  It is also the reopening capacity for California professional stadiums in the red tier, including Petco Park for the Padres Opening Day. Regardless of whether you think a 20% capacity level is too low or too high, this number follows from other real life examples.

Rewind to March 16, CDPH made two remarkable moves for high school sports. First, they announced that “observers for youth sports (age 18 and under) are limited to household members” and “to a single adult (or immediate family member older than the sport participant).” Second, they said that sideline cheerleading, band and drumline, which are traditional parts of Friday Night Lights, would not be allowed for the time being.

Not surprisingly, parents and students protested against these ridiculous rules. It is easy to imagine both cheerleading and the band could perform at the game with reasonable precautions to the satisfaction of everyone involved. 

By March 19, CDPH gave in and cheerleading was finally approved to participate at football games. Sideline bands were also approved a few days later. Finally, CDPH changed their mind about the limited attendance at these games, saying they will be updating that guidance soon. These are three major COVID guidance changes in less than a week.

Ironically, their most recent guidance stated, “The state is supporting youth sports to safely return to play, guided by science.” If they genuinely thought they were “guided by science” before, what changed? There are countless examples of football games with fans, bands, and cheerleading with no major COVID spread. It is concerning that CDPH has to be pressured to change their mind on an issue that has already been settled months ago by other states.

Beyond high school sports, many people just want to get back and enjoy some organized recreational activities and sports. As of this week, 97.3% of California is in the red tier or lower and 49.7% of the state is under the orange tier or lower, and California has one of the lowest case rates of any state. You would probably think this the perfect time to get back to playing pickup basketball.

But some activities are surprisingly not allowed in certain tiers. While indoor dining and movie theaters are allowed in the red tier, bowling alleys are not allowed to reopen until the orange tier, even though sanitizing procedures should not be too difficult. This is surprising since some restaurants include bowling alleys. Why is CDPH, when in the red tier, fine when you are eating indoors with your friends, but then freak out when you pick up a bowling ball? It is not difficult to place some precautions for bowling, especially because it is not a contact sport.

Want to go ice skating indoors? This is an activity where you can social distance with certain precautions. But CDPH says these are not allowed until the yellow tier, unless you compete in an organized league, then you might be able to reopen in the orange tier.

Want to restart your local lacrosse league? For girls and women, they can do it in the red tier because CDPH deems it an “outdoor moderate-contact sport.” But for boys and men, they can not do it until the orange tier, because CDPH called it an “outdoor high-contact sport.” Notably that is the only sport where gender was a determinant for what tier determines participation.  

As we continue to inch closer and closer to the finish line, we can continue to laugh at the illogical thought process of the CDPH’s regulation of fun, but this also highlights the flaws in California and CDPH’s overall reopening process. Along with the delayed school reopenings by the teachers unions, California continues to rely on a constricting reopening system that is not based on science and can easily be influenced by enough justifiably angry Californians. If CDPH can’t even regulate fun properly, how can they be dependable to reopen California businesses and schools?

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Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.

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