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New state guidelines allow for March start to prep football
• High school football to begin next week following COVID-19 shutdown
Verlis Smith preps
Ceres High’s Verlis Smith and other prep football players are looking forward to the start of the season, which was moved from fall to spring due to COVID-19.

Friday night lights are set to return to high school stadiums sooner than expected as new state guidelines released Thursday now allow for football to resume with strict testing and other requirements.

“I’m not surprised,” Central Valley High School football head coach Derrick Goblirsch said. “I had an idea how the trends would go after the holidays. I’m just happy the kids get something, especially the seniors. They’ve been working hard for the past three years.”

The previous guidelines stated that high- and moderate-contact sports such as football, soccer and water polo could only be played in counties with an adjusted daily case rate of 14 or fewer per 100,000 residents. The new guidelines allow for all sports to be played in counties even if the daily case rate is higher than 14 per 100,000 if the schools adhere to the stricter requirements in place for college teams.

Stanislaus County’s most recent adjusted case rate was 15.7 per 100,000.

The new requirements include regular periodic COVID-19 testing of athletes and support staff, providing negative test results of all athletes and support staff within 48 hours of each competition, school plans for contact tracing and quarantining, if needed.

All athletes and staff who test positive or are clinically diagnosed with COVID-19 disease must isolate: 

For 10 days after symptoms first appeared (or 10 days after specimen collection for their first positive test);

At least 24 hours have passed with no fever (without use of fever-reducing medications); and

Other symptoms have improved.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 but never develop symptoms, can return to work or school 10 days after the date of specimen collection for their first positive test.

Individuals identified as close contacts (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes) must follow state and local public health directives or orders for quarantine, regardless of the frequency of testing for those in the cohort or footprint. Close contacts must quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure.

The guidelines also state that when traveling to away games, teams must remain in a team cohort, with no mixing with the local teams or other members of the host community.

Low-contact sports — including boys tennis, girls golf, cross country and swim — started play mid-February. 

The Western Athletic Conference, which includes both Ceres and Central Valley high schools, has released a tentative schedule of football games for a five-game season starting March 19 — which previously could only happen if the adjusted case rate lowered to 14 or fewer. With the new guidelines, that schedule is now moving forward.

The new guidelines also now allow for indoor sports like volleyball and basketball to resume play under the college requirements.

 “It’s a blessing,” Central Valley senior football player Isaiah Hidalgo said. “I’m smiling right now. Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to have a season.”

“It’s a lot to take in,” Ceres High junior football player Verlis Smith added. “But I’m excited. It doesn’t really matter how many games we play. I just want to ball.”

Ceres High and Central Valley are scheduled to play Grace Davis and Johansen, respectively, during the first week of the season.

Courier reporter Dale Butler contributed to this report.