Dr. Nirav Pandya, director of the Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes at Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, has followed the plight of high school athletes during the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandya, a UC San Francisco orthopedic surgeon, has joined the conversation about the best time to return to play.

Pandya said he received a total of 45 text messages and emails shortly after the California Department of Public Health issued an updated plan on Friday to allow outdoor contact sports to resume starting next week.

Pandya spoke to the Bay Area News Group about the updated guidelines. His answers were edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: Did California public health officers get it right with the timing of their announcement?

Answer: This is the right way to do it. The key thing, which has been hard, we needed a way for the numbers to get better in the community. Now that the cases have dropped significantly and vaccines are being rolled out the risk of their being spread in gathering together in sports is much less.

Q: That is an enthusiastic endorsement.

A: It is safe from a transmission standpoint as far as we know right now to resume youth sports in the fashion they have done. This is the right thing and they put together very comprehensive guidelines.

Q: What do you like about the current plan?

A: I like the fact that they are testing weekly for the sports that are at higher risk. It allows both physicians and the state to monitor.  If there is a lot of spread going on they can always reverse course.

But they made a good evidence-based decision and they’ve done it in a way that allows kids to salvage a season, particularly juniors and seniors who have college aspirations but more importantly for the mental health of all of these kids.

Q: Do you have any health concerns at all?

A:  The one thing we need to look at beyond the COVID rate is making sure that we’re not going to see a whole bunch of injuries as a result of people rushing back to play. That’s more of the pressing issue. It is hard to gauge how much kids have been staying in shape. Are they suddenly going to go out and perform at a high level?  We want to make sure we’re not seeing those injuries.

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