Restarting Sports During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Recent Outbreaks

 

As discussions of reopening college campuses start, collegiate athletes are returning to school to resume training with new guidelines in place for COVID-19 monitoring. Within a week of opening schools, many players, often asymptomatic, have tested positive. These schools include Arkansas State, Auburn University, Texas Tech, University of Iowa, Marshall University, Oklahoma, and the University of Alabama (1). With college players returning to schools, this prompts the question, what are we doing to do to keep outbreaks small and players safe?

 

NCAA Guidelines

 

Before returning to schools, the NCAA created “Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Action Plan Considerations” following the guidelines of “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport” to help develop protocols for schools to have in place as training resumes. At the core of this action plan are the same guidelines used to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 (2). These recommendations include:

  • Personal

    • ​Physical distancing and the use of masks when distancing is not possible

    • Frequent hand hygiene

    • Frequent disinfecting of commonly used surface

    • Staying home and getting tested if you feel sick

  • Institutional

    • ​Safe and efficient screening and testing sites

    • Surveillance, with use of contact tracing

    • Isolating new infections

 

The Core Principles plan was developed following the “Opening Up America Again” guidelines released by the White House. The guideline follows the previously mentioned core principles as well as three stages of opening up.


The first stage includes satisfying the gating criteria (downward trend of flu or COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days prior to returning), having vulnerable student-athletes and athletic employees continue to shelter in place, student-athletes living in dorms and residences with other individuals need to receive education on isolation and sanitation precautions to protect others, the continuation of physical distancing, the limited gathering of 10 people unless physical distancing in possible and sanitation stations are in place, gyms are closed until strict distancing is in place and sanitation protocols are initiated, non-essential travel should be avoided and virtual meetings should be utilized when they can (3).


 The second stage can resume when the criteria of the first have been met with no signs of rebound effects from gathering during the first stage. Changes from the previous stage include gatherings of up to 50 people and nonessential travel may resume. The final stage can start when stage two has been initiated with no rebound. This stage allows the return of vulnerable populations with the proper use of social distancing and sanitization stations, reopening of gyms if not already done, and unrestricted staffing (3).
 

 

What can be done to protect against small outbreaks?

 

College athletes pose more questions than professional athletes due to the fact that they are not only athletes but students as well. As students, they live in dorm rooms within close proximity to others, and once school resumes will be co-mingling with non-athlete students. There are important key elements that the schools must embrace in order to help limit potential outbreaks of the virus. The first key element is access to quick and reliable testing. This needs to factor in the cost of testing, as well as the proper gear needed by the tester. This may vary based on the school location but it is important that as the phases progress with contact sports, testing sites are easily accessible and reliable in order for quick identification. Each facility must also address the need for contact tracing in order to help identify exposed individuals quickly so that all involved parties can monitor for signs of infection and practice the needed quarantining. A final consideration to help contain outbreaks is designing an isolation plan for the infected students or athletic staff members. For those who live off-campus and can isolate at home, this may not be an issue. The school must have an isolation plan for those living in a community setting, such as in dorms and apartments. This plan may need to involve having designated isolation areas on the campus of infected students to help protect other students (2).

What are other countries doing?

With restrictions in place, other countries are able to start resuming professional sports. A prime example of the resumption of sporting events includes the Bundesliga soccer league in Germany. The teams started to prepare for the restart of the season back in early May, testing 1724 players, coaches, and other staff members (4). Out of all the tests, 10 came back positive without displaying symptoms (4). These individuals were placed into quarantine for 14 days following the test (4). Starting mid-May the league resumed with many restrictions and aggressive testing (4). Restrictions placed by the league included: players arrived on several buses to allow for social distancing; 30 balls were used for the game with frequent disinfecting; everyone not playing had to wear a mask with exception of head coach; substitutes on the bench had to sit 6 feet apart and only 213 people were allowed on-site, including media and medics; all monitored for elevated temperatures prior to attending (5). While this is a change from the norm of the league, it is an example of how proper testing can reduce outbreaks, and with proper protocols in place, sporting events can begin to resume.

 References:
1. CNN HD. More universities report coronavirus cases in athletics programs [Internet]. CNN. [cited 2020 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/07/us/universities-athletic-programs-coronavirus/index.html
2. Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Action Plan Considerations [Internet]. NCAA.org - The Official Site of the NCAA. 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 9]. Available from: http://www.ncaa.org/sport-science-institute/resocialization-collegiate-sport-action-plan-considerations
3. Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport [Internet]. NCAA.org - The Official Site of the NCAA. 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 9]. Available from: http://www.ncaa.org/sport-science-institute/core-principles-resocialization-collegiate-sport
4. With Germany reportedly set to allow pro soccer, 10 in Bundesliga test positive for coronavirus [Internet]. Washington Post. [cited 2020 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/05/05/with-germany-reportedly-set-allow-pro-soccer-10-bundesliga-test-positive-coronavirus/
5. Soccer is back with strict COVID-19 rules. Here’s what you need to know [Internet]. World Economic Forum. [cited 2020 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/coronavirus-sport-soccer-bundesliga-germany

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