College-athletes continue to return to campus for workouts. For a lot of these athletes, it will be their first time back on campus since March due to the pandemic. There is no way to fully eradicate the risk of getting the virus. However, strict precautions are being put in place to help students return safely.
Dr. Rand McClain, who has a sports medicine practice in Santa Monica, California, acknowledges the risk of returning to campus but also outlines ways to adequately protect both athletes and staff. Following protocols can keep the risk low enough to continue.
“We’re definitely increasing the players’ risk, or anyone involved in the program,” McClain said. “It’s not like this is a non-issue. We’re making a choice and doing a risk-benefit analysis, I would hope, and the choice has been made to go ahead and take the chance.”
“There’s no way to 100% protect yourself from getting the virus,” the doctor added. “No way to 100% decrease your risk unless you just stay locked up at home.”
With the heavy breathing of athletes during workouts, using proper ventilation within indoor spaces will be crucial. Adequate ventilation helps to prevent “pooling” of COVID-19 particles, decreasing the likelihood of contracting the virus. Another suggested precaution is social distancing of more than 6 feet apart. This can be implemented by dividing up work out times. That way only a certain amount of players are allowed in the space at one time.
“The poison’s in the dose,” McClain said. “You may get exposed to the virus, but if it’s not enough to overwhelm your system, you’re safe. But … if (someone) sitting next to you unknowingly has it and is breathing hard, without any ventilation and (the viral particles) are pooling there, then you have a much greater chance of … catching the virus.”
Another important precaution will be wearing masks. This is feasible during indoor workouts. In the future though, it won’t be an effective solution during scrimmages.
“Decisions are going to have to be made early on, ‘Are we going to scrimmage, or are we just going to practice everything but live ball?’” McClain said. “In a contact sport, you can avoid contact to a certain point and still get in shape and do some training, but the ultimate training is the scrimmage.”
Rigorous testing will be essential. By doing so, they can isolate those who test positive as soon as possible. This would prevent further spread.
Because of the virus, players have been stuck at home with limited access to work out equipment. Teams will have to get back into shape quickly without damaging their bodies.
“Even the guys who were diligent about training at home, putting in the work, certainly in contact sports, you haven’t trained the same muscles,” McClain said. “Hitting one another, tackling, you probably haven’t done a lot of the same drills (as you’d do in practice). My advice that I give to any of the athletes is, ‘Do not try and get back to 100% right away.’
“As good as you may be feeling, you haven’t trained like you would be prepared for a game, had you been in practice normally. So, ramp up. This is to coaches, too, don’t expect players to be 100%.”
McClain believes that for younger players, the risk may not be worth the reward. A senior, on the other hand, will likely not want to miss his last season or a chance to impress NFL scouts.
“If I’m a freshman football player’s dad, I’m saying, ‘Hey, redshirt, it’s not worth it,’” McClain said. “Even if you’re a potential pro ballplayer down the line, let’s wait a year, presumably we’ll have treatments or a vaccine next year, we’ll have more options to avoid this.
“Because, look, even if we’re talking about guys who are in the best physical condition, least risk category, young, in shape, no co-morbidities … even if he’s not killed by it, even if he’s not severely ill, we don’t know if moderately ill people will have lung damage down the line, we just don’t know enough.”