California will allow fans to attend outdoor professional sporting events in areas at less risk for the coronavirus

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California will let fans back in outdoor stadiums for pro sporting events in counties with low coronavirus infection rates, the state's top health official said Tuesday.

San Francisco and neighboring Alameda and Santa Clara are the only counties that meet the threshold for pro sports. However, immediately after the announcement, officials in Santa Clara, home to the San Francisco 49ers, issued a statement saying they weren't prepared to allow even a limited number of fans into Levi's Stadium.

As many as 14,000 people could attend Levi's Stadium events under the state's guidance, setting up the chance of devastating "superspreader" events, said Dr. Jeff Smith, Santa Clara County's executive officer.

"It's a matter of reasonable scientific decision-making instead of political decision-making," Smith told reporters. "Putting an audience in a stadium in large groups is just asking for trouble. It's like a petri dish."

Being outdoors isn't enough to guarantee the virus won't spread, he said, because fans would be using the same restrooms and same doors to enter and leave the stadium, while screaming and yelling during the game.

The 49ers said the team welcomed the news from the state but "will continue to collaborate with local public health officials to implement a plan that ensures a plan that protects the health and wellness" of the team, its employees and the public. Many NFL teams in other states have been playing games with fans in the stands.

Under the state rules, pro sports teams could have limited capacity at outdoor stadiums if they are in a county in the lowest two levels of the state's four-tiered model for reopening. Only fans who live within a 120-mile radius may buy tickets.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state health secretary, said the goal for sporting events is to keep the crowds small and regional, without allowing visitors to swarm in from other areas and increase the risk of exposure and spread of the pandemic.

No county in Southern California has reached those tiers, so fans of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and Chargers are still on the sidelines.

San Francisco is the first highly populated county to move into the state's lowest tier for infections. All the other counties at that level are rural areas scattered near the Oregon border or in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.