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Newsom Says State COVID Guidelines Not Preventing Pac-12 From Resuming Football

SACRAMENTO (AP/CBS SF) -- While giving an update to the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said nothing in California's coronavirus guidelines is preventing the Pac-12 conference from moving forward with football and other sports.

"They can resume football," Newsom said. "There is nothing in guidelines that says Pac-12 cannot move forward. Period, full stop. I just want to make that crystal clear."

The Big Ten and Pac-12 decided last month to postpone all fall sports until January due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Football in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12 started last week, with the Southeastern Conference set to kick off its season on Sept. 26. The Big Ten's Council of Presidents and Chancellor voted Tuesday to change course and begin football with all 14 teams next month.

The Big Ten changed course Wednesday and said it will begin an eight-game football schedule on Oct. 23. The Pac-12 has also reconsidered starting its football season this fall, but had said it did not have approval from state and local health officials in California and Oregon to conduct contact practices.

Earlier this month, the Pac-12 announced a partnership that would give the conference's schools the capacity to perform daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes. The rapid testing was seen as an avenue for the conference to begin playing football and other sports sooner than expected.

"We are hopeful that our new daily testing capability can help satisfy public health official approvals in California and Oregon to begin contact practice and competition," Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in the statement. "We are equally closely monitoring the devastating fires and air quality in our region at this time. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals."

Newsom said he spoke to Scott earlier and that he has been working with the NCAA on testing, along with figuring out how to keep athletes and coaches safe.

A spokesman for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the state also is working to find a way for football to return.

"Governor Brown's primary focus right now is on the ongoing wildfire response to save lives and protect homes across Oregon, including in Lane County," Charles Boyle said in a statement. "When it comes to college football, we all want to see the Ducks and Beavers take the field again. The Oregon Health Authority is in the process of working with the universities to review their plans for team practices, to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches, and the wider university community."

The Pac-12 tweeted out a response from Scott regarding the new developments Wednesday afternoon.

"We appreciate Governor Newsom and Governor Brown's support, the former of which is consistent with the very productive conversation that he and I had earlier today," Scott said. "Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and immediately reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is required to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority officials."

The Pac-12 CEO Group is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the conference's options.

Newsom had earlier opened his comments touting the accomplishments of the state's push to increase housing for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program called Project Homekey has set aside a budget of $600 million towards purchasing motels and housing for the homeless.

Newsom said the first awards for Project Homekey were being issued on Wednesday, with $76.5 million going towards the procurement of 579 housing units at ten projects spread over seven jurisdictions including the Tahoe area, Lake Elsinore, El Centro, Mendocino County and Kern County as well as in Pittsburgh and San Jose in the Bay Area.

"San Jose needs to be highlighted because I wanted to highlight Mayor Sam Liccardo for his stewardship, his leadership working with the big 13 mayors as he is now chair of that organization," said Newsom. "He has been exceptional and incredibly supportive of this effort in advancing this cause, not only within San Jose city working with county leaders, but moreover working with other mayors all throughout the state of California."

The governor had good news regarding the state's COVID-19 progress, with the average caseload dropping another 15 percent this week.

The state positivity rate had fallen to 3.6 percent -- the lowest since May -- while California hospitalization and ICU rates were down 22 percent.

As far as the county tier risk status across the state, 30 counties remained at the highest Tier 1 (Purple or Widespread) risk level, while 17 counties were at Tier 2 (Red or Substantial) risk level. Nine counties were at Tier 3 (Orange or Moderate) risk level and only two counties were at Tier 1 (Yellow or Minimal) risk level.

Newsom also said Wednesday that the state would "soon" be making announcements regarding reopening guidelines for theme parks and other industries, but he did not specify which sectors would be affected.

"We will be making announcements soon as it relates to theme parks, amusement parks, making announcements soon as it relates to some areas, industries, as well as sectors and putting out additional guidelines," Newsom said during the briefing.

"I'm not here today to make that presentation but want folks to know we are actively working in a number of sectors and will be making public the fruits of those negotiations and those efforts very, very shortly," Newsom added.

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