County of Santa Clara Public Health Department Reports Large COVID-19 Outbreak Tied to Youth Basketball Programs

December 11, 2020 

Ongoing Investigation has Identified at Least 94 COVID-19 Cases Across Three Counties, Including at Least 77 in Santa Clara County, Tied to Unlawful Participation in Tournament 

Santa Clara County, CA – As COVID-19 transmission continues surging to record levels across our state and region, the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department is reporting a large outbreak of COVID-19 among a local youth basketball program’s coaches, players, and their close contacts. The private basketball program for middle- and high-school-aged players was violating local and State orders for youth sports in effect at the time the outbreak began and has been cited by County officials. As of December 11, 2020, public health officials had identified 77 positive cases associated with the outbreak in Santa Clara County, including 39 youth players, three coaches, and 35 additional contacts. The ongoing investigation has also revealed 17 additional cases in other counties so far. This outbreak is a stark reminder that failure to follow public health requirements can ignite chains of transmission that accelerate the spread of COVID-19 within the community.  

As part of its investigation of this outbreak, the County learned that players from affected teams had traveled from Santa Clara County to participate in a youth basketball tournament in Placer County on November 7 and 8, 2020. Thirty-three of 37 players and all three coaches from the Santa Clara County based teams tested positive for COVID-19. Factors that contributed to the transmission of COVID-19 included the tournament taking place indoors, players engaging in close-contact exertional activities, and the length of time spent in close proximity during each game. Both the state and local health orders prohibit any competition between youth teams, and any indoor youth athletic activity not involving masking and social distancing, given the high-risk of transmission associated with these activities. The California Department of Public Health has initiated an enforcement investigation involving the tournament operator. 

“This outbreak is a troubling reminder that the widespread prevalence of COVID-19 in our community threatens all of us, and does not limit itself to geographic boundaries,” said Dr. Monika Roy, Assistant Public Health Officer for the County of Santa Clara. “Public Health orders, directives, and guidance around contact sports and sporting events are in place for a reason. The risk of transmission in these settings can easily result in community spread that threatens the most vulnerable among us.” 

In addition to violating state and local health orders, the youth basketball program also failed to timely and properly report some of the initial positive cases among staff and players, which hindered the Public Health Department’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation in time to avoid more widespread transmission. Early and complete reporting of COVID-19 cases is critical to the Public Health Department’s ability to detect transmission and prevent outbreaks like this from occurring. 

“As cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions continue to soar to record levels with no sign of slowing in Santa Clara County or across California, each of us must take every possible step to protect ourselves and our loved ones from transmission of COVID-19,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Public Health Officer for the County of Santa Clara. “We risk continued, uncontrolled spread of the disease throughout our community and even more loss of life if we don’t each do absolutely everything we can to limit contact with anyone outside of our own household.” 

“If Californians do not stay home as much as possible, our hospitals will overflow in a matter of days,” said Acting State Health Officer Erica Pan. “This outbreak is an example of people engaging in activities that put their friends and loved ones at great risk of serious illness and death, which we are seeing statewide. We ask that everyone take seriously their responsibility to protect the entire community.” 

Public Health experts have long had concerns about the risk of COVID-19 transmission through contact sports. Outbreaks amongst professional, collegiate, and youth sports teams have been widely reported across the United States. All youth sports activities where participants come within six feet of one another or involve interaction between more than one stable group are completely prohibited under current public health orders.

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