School is in session but what about extracurricular activities? Sports are an integral part of many children’s day. How do we weigh the risks associated with playing a sport?
Guiding principles judge risk by how many people a child or coach interacts with, the closer the physical interaction, the more sharing of equipment there is by multiple players, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. Therefore, the risk of COVID transmission depends on the type of activity.
Per CDC guidelines, risk assessment is laid out as such:
- Lowest Risk: Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone or with family members.
- Increasing Risk: Team-based practice.
- More Risk: Within-team competition.
- Even More Risk: Full competition between teams from the same local geographic area.
- Highest Risk: Full competition between teams from different geographic areas.
This risk assessment outlines that some sports will be higher risk than others, that require close interaction, are played indoors, and share equipment may pose a greater risk for COVID-19 infection or transmission. The more people a player or coach interacts with, the closer the physical interaction, the more sharing of equipment there is by multiple players, and the longer the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
To determine which sports are safer to play during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider the following:
- Physical closeness of players during play
- Amount of necessary touching of shared equipment and gear
- Ability to engage in social distancing while on bench or sidelines
- Age of player and ability to comply with social distancing and other protective actions
- Size of the team and field of play
- Presence of nonessential visitors, spectators, volunteers during practices or games
- Travel required outside of the local community
Close-contact sports like wrestling or basketball, play will likely need to be modified to safely increase distance between players. For example, coaches limiting close or full contact to competitions or scrimmages, limiting the number of participants in close or full contact, and decreasing number of competitions.
Routinely cleaning and disinfecting of protective equipment, gear, and frequently touched surfaces is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I would also recommend NOT sharing items and gear if at all possible (protective gear, balls, bats, racquets, mats, or water bottles).
What about masks? I do understand that while playing sports, cloth face coverings may be challenging for young players. With practice and continued encouragement, I believe we can help teach our kids to comply. Older children should not have too much difficulty wearing masks while exercising, and in general, are better able to follow instructions. We know that wearing a mask, even while exercising, does not compromise oxygen levels. Certainly, the use of masks by coaches, sports staff, officials, parents, and spectators are also crucial here. Masks are most important when physical distancing is difficult. Therefore, encourage social distancing as much as possible and a reminder to players, coaches and staff to not touch their mask and to wash their hands frequently.
Important items to consider:
- age and maturity of player
- players with chronic health conditions
- size of team
- traveling obligations for the team
- number of nonessential visitors or spectators
By no means is this a thorough list of items to consider. For parents, this decision to let your child play in a sport this year isn’t as straightforward as it may have been in earlier years. I encourage you to use this post as a guide to ask questions and learn more about what schools sports team, extracurricular activities, and intramural sports are doing to keep practices and events safe.