First Partner Newsom: Let Us Play Water Polo

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Dear First Partner Newsom:

California has subjected youth athletes to a risk system designed for the economy. Its health officials treated sports as an afterthought, issuing guidance after the Fall season was lost. COVID risks were mischaracterized. Most sports are banned. Governor Newsom saved college football from his own officials but has not done the same for youth. The science and experience from other states - and health and sport governing bodies - has not penetrated the Capitol. 

We appeal to you as a former elite youth athlete. You have a perspective on the risks and reality of sport that the medical advisors have lacked. For example, soccer players on your former teams are playing out-of-state, as are tens of thousands of other California athletes. Bizarrely, fear-based policies have increased the very risks California wants to avoid. COVID transmission risks are not on field. The risks of sport are social and operational - like travel!

As the doctors advising the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) wrote yesterday, the evidence shows that sports should not be pinned into risk categories. COVID is very rarely transmitted on the fields and even less in pools. In fact, there are no reported transmissions in pools that we can find. The NFHS accepted this evidence. Citing CDC guidance and the experiences of all the other states allowing athletes to play, the NFHS rescinded its faulty risk categorization from May of 2020. California must do the same.

Dozens of sports are miscategorized. Water polo is rated the world's toughest sport because it mixes swimming and contact. For this reason, California placed categorized it as "high risk" for COVID transmission, alongside football and soccer. This is a mischaracterization. Water polo athletes submerge in chlorinated water every few seconds. The CDC and WHO have ruled out waterborne transmission. International studies rated water polo the safest team COVID sport. States like Pennsylvania and Texas completed high school seasons without a single reported transmission. And they played indoors!

Each sport is unique. Few sports were spared permission hurdles that far outweigh their risks. We are unlikely to be able to play water polo even in the 2021-2022 school year. That's how risk averse the current categorization is. Like your former youth soccer teammates, we are prevented from playing water polo until daily case rates drop below 4 per 100,000. This rate is much lower than the wintertime flu. And because COVID is so much less complicating for youth than the flu, we are last in line for the vaccine.

We athletes have no way out of this trap ourselves. We are asking you for two things. First, advocate to remove sports from the economic blueprint. Second, advocate to permission sports by pivoting guidelines to operational and social protocols, like locker room use and spectator rules, and away from uncorrelated, broad population case rates.

As an athlete, you understand the other side of the health debate. Sports data shows it is low-risk for transmission, yet we athletes are suffering, both our bodies and our minds. With your help, we can emerge from this devastating time as a youth sports community. By Springtime the young Newsoms can sample California's home sport - water polo!



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