One of the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic has been team sports. Around the world, amateur and professional sports teams have been sidelined due to concern about viral transmission. With the gradual loosening of restrictions, there have been increased calls for a return to team sports, including in Arkansas.
A decision on when Arkansas students can resume playing team sports has not been announced. However, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters on May 13 that a decision will be made and announced on Wednesday, May 20.
In preparation for the reopening of team sports, experts at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) have developed a series of guidelines to help both high schools and colleges resume sports activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The UAMS COVID19 Sports Committee, which includes sports medicine, orthopaedic surgery, family medicine, pathology and infectious disease, prepared the guidelines.
“Our experts developed these guidelines so teams across the state don’t have to start from scratch as they consider what a safe return to play might look like,” Wesley Cox, M.D., committee chairman and chief of orthopaedics and sports medicine at UAMS Northwest Regional Campus, said in a statement. “We also wanted to provide some basic expectations for all teams so they feel they can interact and compete with the peace of mind of knowing everyone is holding themselves to the same safety standards. Safe team sports makes for safe students and safe communities.”
These guidelines are designed to serve as a resource for coaches, players, schools, physicians and students’ families, as well as school administrators and fans. According to the committees that developed the guidelines, the goal is to “provide recommendations reflective of medical best practices and keep the health and safety of student-athletes, administrators, coaches, staff and fans as the No. 1 priority. We must all work together to safely return to sports.”
For the high school guidelines, the committee recommends that all athletic staff be required to complete an education course/module before team scheduling and meetings commence. This course would be designed to focus on the health risks of COVID-19 on the athletes, how to prevent transmission of COVID-19, the impact of failing to prevent transmission, among other topics.
The guidelines also include daily screening assessments and active monitoring. Under the guidelines, athletes would be required to have a temperature of less than 100.4 degrees and pass a symptom assessment. If students fail screening, quarantining would be the next step.
It is also recommended that athletes receive a pre-participation physical from a personal physician or community provider.
Many of the high school recommendations also apply to the collegiate recommendations. However, the collegiate recommendations also require a negative COVID-19 screening before students move onto campus, and the committee suggests single room occupancy and social distancing during meals.
The committee also recommends having “limited in-person interaction with others outside of team/family unless necessary.” However, the members not that this “will obviously change when classes start.”
Traveling by bus is the recommended transportation option for team sports with only essential travelers, including athletes, coaches and immediate support staff on board.
During the May 13 daily press conference, Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith stated that he had not gone through the entirety of UAMS’ guidelines but that the team developing the state’s directive on team sports has access to the guidelines and will likely be looking at them.
He noted that the guidelines will be complementary to the directive and he does not expect any clashes, but said that the directive may not include all of the UAMS’ proposed guidelines.
“Not everything that they’ve included in theirs will be in ours, but I don’t think that there will be anything that’s out of sync or not harmonized,” Smith said.