By Alfredo Santana
BELL — Youth sports and recreational activities have been temporarily shut down in this city as well as Downey as area cities try to contain COVID-19, while school districts reported more transmissions and updated online dashboards accessible for parents and students.
Bell closed all outdoor soccer tournaments under the community recreation program through Sept. 16, following new county public health mandates that require weekly testing for unvaccinated players 12 years and older.
A statement posted on its website said the city decided to switch sport leagues into “skills building and training clinics.” The sports programs affected by the measure include youth soccer, youth baseball and pee wee basketball.
Bell’s Community Recreation Supervisor Connie Hurtado said the city did not cancel the outdoor sports leagues, but decided to postpone them due to the steep financial cost of running weekly COVID-19 tests to align with new county requirements.
About 500 children and adolescents will be sidelined by the program postponement, she said.
“We decided to talk with the parents and get their thoughts on it,” Hurtado said. “We tailored the youth sports programs to fit the parent needs, but we also recognize the Delta variant is threatening our community.”
She said other area cities may not be prepared to run into unexpected costs associated with weekly COVID-19 tests for youth.
In Bell, tiny and adolescent soccer matches take place at Ernest Debs Park, located across the street from the Magnolia Science Academy campus, and at fields near City Hall on Gage Avenue and Pine Avenue.
“It’s hard on everyone, parents and children,” said Osmond Hernandez, Bell’s community recreation leader. “They just returned to [in-person] classes and to play sports and now the variant puts everyone back on hold.”
Downey also shut down segments of its sports activities for youth 12 years of age and older, but will continue running programs and games for younger kids, Parks and Recreation manager Jason Chacon said.
In-person arts, painting and other classes in classrooms will not suffer disruptions, he said.
“We are not running any programs for kids 12 years and older, or any kind of sports that require games,” Chacon said. “We are lined up to comply with the most recent [protocol] changes ordered by the county’s health department.”
L.A. County health officials have ordered that, starting Sept. 1, all children 12 and older as well as coaches and staff not fully vaccinated are required to be tested weekly to participate in moderate to high-risks sports like soccer, basketball and football.
The county removed mandated COVID-19 screenings for children 12 years and younger playing outdoors, but advised to have them weekly tested in line with Center for Disease Control “recommendations for communities experiencing high transmission” of COVID-19.
Data from the state’s Department of Public Health indicated that last week Los Angeles County reported a positive infection case of 2.3%, or 4,327 out of 188,119 tests performed through Sept. 1.
Sanitary protocols for indoor sports for youth of all ages and for staff and coaches also require negative weekly tests from the non-fully vaccinated, with the recommendation to be tested twice a week.
County health officials also deleted the weekly requirement to test fully vaccinated coaches, staff or youth athletes if they had a verifiable coronavirus illness within the last 90 days and recovered.
However, if a positive case is detected, everyone in the team will be required to undergo weekly negative tests for two weeks straight after being cleared of the disease to shield against potential exposure.
Similar to Bell, Downey’s sports instructors will pivot to in-person skills development and training clinics with students wearing facemasks.
As for area school districts, Lynwood Unified School District Superintendent Gudiel Crosthwaite announced a COVID-19 dashboard was added to the district’s website with the latest data on confirmed infections among students and staff.
He also said the district will require all staff to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, and reminded parents to keep students at home if they show symptoms to ensure the safety of everyone.
As of Sept. 3, the district reported 14 confirmed cases pertaining to staff and 33 among students.
Lynwood High reported seven students contracted COVID-19, along with two staff members. The district did not elaborate if the students caught the virus playing sports or not.
Will Rogers Elementary had eight confirmed cases among students, and none from staff. The elementary campus has 708 students and 68 staff members.
Lynwood High is the school with the highest number or pupils enrolled and with the most staff. This academic year, 2,082 students are enrolled and 184 staff were assigned to teach, do clerical work and upkeep the revamped facilities at the campus on Bullis Road.
“We are committed as a school district to the safety of our students and staff, and are working closely with the L.A. Department of Public Health and state leaders to ensure we have the right protocols and classroom environment,” Crosthwaite said.
The district’s website “clearly states all of our protocols and reports any positive cases. We anticipate that there may be a few cases as we readjust to in-person life, but we remain committed to safely work through this period,” he added.
For its part, the Downey Unified School District posted on its weekly dashboard that 21 students and two staff members tested positive for COVID last week. Four cases were tracked to Warren High, with at least two tracked to the boy’s basketball program.
Downey High added two more cases among students, while Griffiths Middle School accounted for four positive cases among students and two from staff.
The district has scheduled a free Pfizer vaccine vaccination clinic for anyone 12 and older at Warren High from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 Participants should book an appointment through www.myturn.ca.gov.
Back in Bell, Hurtado said the city will revise and strengthen health protocols if youth sports make a comeback this fall.
The facilities at Debs Park remained open to the public and about 30 youth flocked to the soccer fields for impromptu games under heavy sunshine and temperatures hovering 90 degrees Sept. 4.
“Parents want their kids to be active,” Hurtado said. “Finding a real balance [between the risk to exposure] is very difficult.”