Humboldt County Public Health officials say they were not consulted in the unusual decision to relocate San Jose State’s football team to Arcata to prepare for the 2020 season.
Health officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich said her office learned about the move from a Humboldt State official on Wednesday, the day the schools announced the arrangement. San Jose State is moving its football operation north to circumvent Santa Clara County’s strict guidelines on contact sports that have been implemented to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Thursday, on the day updated state guidelines paved the way for practices and competitions for California college football teams, Frankovich said Humboldt health officers were trying to determine what they need to do to safeguard the community with the team’s arrival.
A San Jose State spokesman said late Thursday night Humboldt State created the protocols to allow for the relocation. “San Jose State is cooperating with HSU to follow its protocols,” he said in an email.
The Spartans’ contingent of 135 players, coaches and training staff are expected to arrive Friday in Arcata in six buses.
“At this point, we need to focus on making sure this move is seamless in Humboldt County and that it has minimal impact on our county,” Frankovich said Thursday on a video call.
She added that the county could include additional provisions to the plan, but health officers will handle any contact investigations.
San Jose State had been scouting locations outside of Santa Clara County after months of doing strength training and technique drills on campus. The Mountain West Conference announced Thursday the Spartans’ season will begin Oct. 24 against Air Force. The game is scheduled for CEFCU Stadium but still needs Santa Clara County approval.
San Jose State’s ability to hold contact drills remains unclear after the California Department of Public Health released its updated guidelines late Wednesday.
The state is allowing 11-on-11 contact practices if daily antigen testing is adopted as the team’s protocol. According to the guidelines, teams can train outdoors in a group of up to 75 people. The policy recommends that if possible, teams should divide groups into “cohorts” of 25. The state previously limited groups to 12 people or fewer.
While the Pac-12 announced a deal for daily antigen testing before revealing its plan to begin playing the weekend of Nov. 6-7, the Mountain West Conference will require rapid testing just three times a week this fall. Unless league members San Jose State, Fresno State and San Diego State increase testing to daily, they would not meet state requirements.
San Jose State officials said their players would be tested weekly until Mountain West officials call for more collection of testing. The San Jose State spokesman said the school is reviewing its testing protocols to remain in alignment with the state guidelines as well as those for Santa Clara and Humboldt counties.
San Jose State has used PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) tests that can directly detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the presence of antibodies. Only two Spartan players have tested positive for COVID-19 since the football team returned to campus in July, athletic director Marie Tuite said last week. Both players were asymptomatic, she added.
Although some health experts say the antigen and PCR tests have too many false negatives they still are considered a reasonable strategy while medical scientists try to find treatments or develop a vaccine for COVID-19.
Humboldt State was able to accommodate the Spartans because the school is not holding on-campus classes this fall. San Jose State implemented a hybrid system with some online instruction and limited classroom attendance; football players can handle their classwork remotely.
Humboldt State dropped football after the 2018 season because of budget issues, according to a university announcement at the time.
Santa Clara County officials declined to address San Jose State’s move to Humboldt on Thursday other than to reinforce a statement issued this week to this news organization that said, in part: “We would be very disappointed to see a football team going outside the county to circumvent a process that was put in place to ensure the safety of its players and staff.”
Now that the state has issued its COVID-19 updates, county officials can begin working with Stanford and San Jose State to approve applications. Cal must seek approval from Berkeley city officials before ramping up football activities. Cal and city officials did not immediately respond to email requests Thursday for comment. A Stanford spokesman said the school has continued to work with Santa Clara County to gain clearance.
The state’s new policy requires a written athletic facility-specific prevention plan for every facility, according to the 37-page guideline. It expects schools to perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work and athletic areas and designate a person at each facility to implement the plan.
The guidelines do not call for quarantines of teams when they travel out of state to play games, or in the case of SJSU, relocate to Arcata to train.
The state guidelines prohibit unnecessary physical contact such as high fives and handshake lines with opposing players and coaches.
The guidelines also state that local health officers could consider discontinuing practice and games for the rest of the season in instances such as having 10 percent of the athletes on a team test positive within a 14-day period.
The state’s guidelines are part of an overall policy for colleges and universities.
Professional teams such as the San Francisco 49ers were cleared to play by local jurisdictions. Santa Clara County officials, for example, said they worked on the 49ers’ and San Jose Earthquakes’ applications in the summer so those teams could start practice and competition in September.
Santa Clara officials said they will approve applications on a case-by-case basis.
Humboldt County’s novel coronavirus policy is not as strict as Santa Clara County’s, Frankovich said. But she added youth and high school contact sports are prohibited in Humboldt.
“I think professional sports and college and universities probably have a little bit more clout than do local sports in K through 12 schools,” she said.