How do we return to play after COVID-19?
As the country starts to open up after an almost complete shutdown of athletics and group events, many athletic trainers are wondering about how to keep their athletes healthy and safe. We do know that in the wake of COVID19, athletic trainers and sports medicine staff are soon going to find themselves on the front line of stopping this global pandemic from recurring.
You may be wondering how concerned should sports medicine be with COVID-19 since most of our patients are young and healthy athletes, in this group has been shown to be low risk for COVID-19 complications. However, it’s important to note that even if the athlete doesn’t have complications from COVID-19 infection (and many of these infections appear to be asymptomatic), the athlete can still pass the infection onto other people including older family members or coaching staff worth of training staff with and can infect family members or other people they can contact outside of the athletic training room.
If an athlete is infected with COVID-19, they will be required to quarantine for up to 14 days and then have to be medically cleared to return to sports. We are seeing some athletes that are taking longer to return to athletic activity because they are still symptomatic with significant fatigue or shortness of breath. There’s also a risk that they could infect other teammates or coaches, who would then also have to quarantine.
Work with team physicians
Work with your team physicians to develop an infection control program for the athletic training room and for the teams’ practice areas and locker rooms.
Determine the best way to limit the congregation of large groups of athletes in the training room and in the locker rooms. Understand what your school or university’s infection control plan is as well as what local and county public health officials are recommending for controlling the spread of COVID-19. Realize that recommendations are constantly changing and being updated as we gain more knowledge about COVID19, so be prepared to alter the plan as needed.
Look for alternative ways to deliver sports medicine care outside of the athletic training room. This may mean more outdoor evaluation of injuries or doing injury rehab outdoors or in a larger room that has better air circulation than the athletic training room.
Keep it clean! Prevent spreading COVID19
Work with your EVS and custodial staff on cleaning protocols for your athletic training room and locker rooms as well as any other adjacent areas to the training room. Make sure that high traffic and high contact areas are cleaned more frequently. The training table should be clean in between each athlete. Whirlpools and ice baths should be single-use only and disinfected between athletes. Be sure to have easy access to hand-washing stations or approved hand sanitizers.
Identify athletes may be “high risk” for COVID19
We do know that certain people are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 especially those with diabetes obesity or with underlying autoimmune diseases. It’s important to rescreen athletes would you have underlying medical conditions and make sure they have medical clearance to return to practice and sports participation
Set the example
Leaders lead. As a critical part of the sports medicine staff, athletic trainers can be one of the leaders demonstrating the importance of good hygiene and social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Athletic trainers need to understand the basics of COVID-19. Know what the virus is and how it’s different than influenza or the “common cold. Learn and understand the reasons behind social distancing, promoting good hand hygiene, mask-wearing and other disease mitigation procedures public health officials have recommended. Athletic trainers have a unique relationship with their athletes and can use this relationship to help educate their athletes about the risk for COVID-19.
Realize that for many athletes, being away from school and their teammates is a hug burden and they may have increased stress, anxiety or even depression with learning how to deal with being an athlete during this pandemic. Listen to their concerns just like you would listen to an athlete trying to come back from a serious injury.
Take Care Of Yourself!
It’s no secret that the job of athletic trainer involves long hours and some high stress. But it’s also important to find time to take care of yourself. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet (if that’s ever possible during football two days practices), and try to get some exercise in. Athletic trainers are the front line caring for athletes common critical in reducing their athletes risk of COVID-19 infection.
Remember to laugh and smile and keep your athletic trainer humor.
And don’t forget to wash your hands!
COVID-19 Resources for Athletic Trainers
NCAA resource page on COVID19: http://www.ncaa.org/sport-science-institute/coronavirus-covid-19
CDC guidelines on COVID 19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/youth-sports.html