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Leslie: A safe return to sports

High school sports workouts around the state have started to resume in limited capacity with COVID-19-related restrictions. Here are some things to know to ease your young athletes back onto the field safely.

How important is it for kids to get back on the field?

During the stay-at-home order, we were all advised to stay inside with our immediate families. There were limited options for exercise and no organized sport activity was permitted. Not only did kids miss out on the physical activity, but also the social and mental benefits that come with playing sports. Now that school sports have started back up, it’s important that participation is done safely to protect personal and public health.

What are some risks of team sports during the pandemic?

We know that participating in group activities can increase your risk of contracting COVID-19, and we know that COVID-19 can be fatal. There may be a greater risk of virus transmission in youth sports as children and teens are less likely to exhibit serious symptoms. They can contract the virus from an asymptomatic coach or player and bring the virus elsewhere, possibly infecting family members or friends. This is especially important for families who have medically vulnerable household members, specifically heart or lung disease, obesity and diabetes. People with the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions have a harder time fighting off the virus and may require hospital treatment if symptoms become severe. It’s important that parents assess this risk and make the best decision for their family.

How can parents, coaches and athletic directors help protect kids while they are playing?

Ochsner’s sports medicine program guidance includes:

  • Proper hand hygiene
  • Social distancing of 6 feet or greater
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Temperature and symptom screening upon arrival to the practice facility
  • COVID-19 testing and isolating
  • Contact tracing if someone tests positive for COVID-19
  • Sanitation of equipment and facilities
  • If you are sick, do not go to work, school or games and practices. Athletes should notify their athletic trainer or coach immediately.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
  • Wear a face mask when you are not exercising, training or playing. Coaches must always wear a face mask and the mask must cover the nose and mouth to be effective.
  • Social distance while participating in group sports.
  • Disinfect frequently touched items
  • Players need to bring 1 gallon of water labeled with the child’s name and their own towel. It is recommended that they also bring one bottle of a sports drink and a protein bar or snack.
  • There should be no sharing of water, food or towels among players. Athletes should not be permitted to participate if they do not bring water to practice.
  • Training sessions should not exceed 60 minutes. When you’re overly tired, your immune system is less effective.

It is important to emphasize that social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing masks are very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. If we want sports to continue, it is imperative that everyone involved, specifically coaches and athletes, adhere to the recommendations that have been successful at decreasing the spread of COVID-19.

When should an athlete be held from participating in sports? When can they return safely?

You should hold your child from all sports if they are COVID-19 symptomatic, awaiting test results and/or have had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. If the athlete tests positive, the child would be out for a minimum of 14 days and need symptoms to fully resolve without the use of medications. The athlete will need to follow up with a pediatrician or primary care physician to be evaluated before clearance back into sports is allowed.

An athlete who has a negative COVID-19 test can return when they are fever- and symptom-free for at least three days without using fever-reducing medications such as Tylenol or ibuprofen.

How can you keep your health on track?

Following all social distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing measures recommended by experts is still the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. David Leslie is a primary care sports medicine physician who serves as a team physician for several local colleges and high schools in the New Orleans metro area. He is a board-certified family medicine physician and is subspecialized in sports medicine. He also is an active member of Ochsner’s Concussion Management Program.

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