High school team sports in Arkansas are still suspended, but there is renewed hope for a return after the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences issued guidelines Wednesday advising schools on how to resume activities during the coronavirus pandemic.
That's good news for football coaches who are eager to increase preparations for a potential 2020 season. Many coaches are conducting instructional meetings with their players via social media platforms such as Zoom and Google Classroom.
COVID-19 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PREP TEAM SPORTS
Coach and Staff Education
All athletic staff must complete an education course/module prior to team scheduling and meetings. The education should be focused on the following:
1. The significant health risks associated with covid-19 on athletes
2. The prevention and transmission of covid-19
3. Rationale for recommendations provided
4. Establishing what it means to be a true teammate during crisis
5. The impact of failing to prevent the spread, including: illness, cancellations, and effects on the community
Quarantine and Screening General Guidelines
The overall strategy is stringent while allowing entrance back into the team and activities. The better we are at ensuring we have minimized the risk of infection prior to entrance, the less modifications are required regarding contact, equipment and routine sport-specific activities. If readily accessible point-of-service testing with high sensitivity were to become available, recommendations regarding generalized testing would likely be different.
Daily Screening Assessment/Active Monitoring
a. Actively follow each student-athlete at least daily to provide the best chance of differentiating new symptoms that may appear like “normal soreness” or heat-related illness
b. Temperature checks (≤100.4°F)
c. Symptom assessment (new cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, loss of taste or smell, GI cramping, nausea and diarrhea)
d. Inquire if exposure to covid-19 individual
e. Quarantine and test for failed screening
1. Highly recommend physical examinations performed by personal physician or community provider under covid-19 safe guidelines
2. Any individual who did not previously have a passing physical examination will require a full evaluation with their primary care physician
3. Highly recommend an updated history with covid-19 specific questions be added to the existing physical examination/clearance
4. Any individual with a confirmed previous or current covid-19 infection or known exposure to covid-19 should obtain clearance prior to participation.
5. Screen for covid-19 prior to entrance into physical area
a. Symptoms, exposure, travel history, history of positive test, temperature check
b. If previously positive, ensure timeline and appropriate quarantine
6. During Physical Examination:
a. Examiner wears surgical mask, gown, gloves and eye protection
b. Change gloves between student-athletes
c. Appropriate amount of hand sanitizer present for student-athletes and staff
d. Limit number of people in small area at a time
e. Divide student-athletes into certain “time slots,” with appropriate social distancing measures
f. Limit grouping typically seen during physicals by waiting in cars, scheduling times, etc.
Home Life and Away from Team
1. Limited in-person interaction with others outside of team/family unless necessary
2. While knowing this may be difficult for many student-athlete, they must have proper education and enforcement of the following:
a. Practice appropriate sanitation
b. Handwashing and proper hygiene
c. Social distancing
d. Limiting exposure as much as possible
e. Have hand sanitizer at all times
3. Strongly encourage/reinforce the need for these rules to be in place among the student-athletes
4. Strongly encourage student-athletes to serve as role model among their peers and teammates
Meals and Campus Dining Halls
1. Avoid eating in large groups when possible and maintain social distancing.
2. Eat at home as often as possible
Team Transportation—Bus vs. Plane
1. Limit out-of-state travel — eliminate if possible
2. Wear masks
3. Group student-athletes/personnel together in seating
4. Maintain appropriate social distancing while waiting for, seated in, and exiting the bus
5. Make every effort to control the environment and limit risk (bus size, seating, etc.)
6. Ensure the bus driver has followed appropriate precautions and has undergone screening
7. Include essential travelers only (student-athletes, coaches, and immediate support staff)
1. Ensure each student-athlete has their own water bottle; Otherwise, use disposable cups/bottles
2. Absolutely NO SHARING OF WATER BOTTLES
Sanitizing and Maintaining Equipment
1. Encourage student-athletes to take ownership of their health and participate at home and on campus
2. Masks should be worn by athletic trainers and student-athletes during active sessions/treatment
3. Athletic trainers should work with student-athletes to keep their areas sanitized
4. Frequently sanitize equipment of student-athletes with higher exposure risks
a. For teams with face/head protection (football/hockey/lacrosse) - helmets/facemasks/mouthpieces
i. Clean with appropriate disinfectant and follow product-specific instructions for contact time and technique. The CDC/EPA has recommended disinfectant recommendations: https://www.epa.
ii. This should occur before and after practice
Other equipment commonly exposed should be sanitized:
a. Pole vault and track baton
b. Basketballs, softballs, baseballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, footballs, etc.
c. Gymnastics - mats, bars, other points of contact
d. Bat sports - bat and gloves
e. Volleyball/basketball - wipe down gym floors
Use disposable cleaning materials - paper towels or aerosols/sprays
Weight room cleaning - Spotters wear mask and should consider face shields
Team Meetings and Practice
1. Conduct remote/virtual meetings when appropriate
2. For small teams, platoon-style meeting scheduling:
a. Social distancing at six feet if meetings are in person
b. Limit unnecessary personnel at in-person meetings
c. Encourage non-essential personnel to attend via remote access
d. Use masks when social distancing is difficult
a. Platoon - separate 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and practice teams
b. When possible, separate student-athletes by position/squad by space and time
c. Use non-surgical masks (cloth) when not participating in activities.
d. Limit “dug out” time or congregation in large groups on sidelines
e. Limit close contact when appropriate
Locker Rooms and Training Rooms
1. Locker rooms/weight rooms/training rooms should be sanitized after or between sessions/teams
a. Heat/steam is not enough
b. Clean with appropriate disinfectant and follow product-specific instructions for contact time and technique. The CDC/EPA disinfectant recommendations: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2
c. Ensure there are adequate supplies to make it easy to use and readily accessible
2. All individuals should wash their hands for minimum of 20 seconds with warm water and soap or with hand sanitizer before touching any surface or participating in workouts
3. All areas and surfaces commonly touched must be identified, cleaned often, and with consistent reinforcement of adherence to guidelines
a. Limit touching when possible by leaving doors open, removing trashcan lifts, elevator assistance, etc.
b. Among the highest risk surfaces
• Door handles
• Sink/shower handles/toilets
• Flat surfaces - locker room seats, tables, etc.
• Weights/weight benches
• Cardio equipment
4. Once team is done in weight room - clean areas/equipment
5. NO shared athletic equipment (towels, clothing, shoes, etc.) between student-athletes
6. Once student-athlete is done at locker - wipe down area
7. Once athletic trainers have completed rehab/treatment of student-athlete - wipe down area
8. Chlorhexidine/antiseptic soaps recommended for bathroom/shower areas.
9. Limit congregation in locker rooms, fieldhouse, etc.
10. Laundry should be washed daily with appropriate detergent
Vaccinations - Seasonal and Childhood
1. When possible and as allowed by district
a. Require yearly flu shots
b. Require up-to-date childhood vaccinations prior to matriculation
What To Do if There is a Positive COVID-19 Test on Your Team
1. The student-athlete should be sent home and quarantined according to the Arkansas Department of Health guidelines
2. Notify the Arkansas Health Department
3. Retrace, as best as possible, contact with other teammates and coaches and manage as per Arkansas Department of Health
4. Modifying practice and lifting schedules can greatly reduce the risk of more student-athletes being quarantined if a student-athlete becomes infected with covid-19
5. Clearance by team or personal physician required prior to return to team activities
Source: UAMS Health
Under normal conditions, high school football teams in Arkansas would be holding spring practices now.
"It would be great to get back together and see each other," said Springdale Har-Ber coach Chris Wood, who is currently conducting meetings via social media with his assistant coaches and 160 players in grades 10-12. "These athletes are a part of our family, our extended family, and we're missing that camaraderie.
"That doesn't mean we have to have our arms around each other. We can do what needs to be done safely from 6 to 10 feet apart."
Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed gyms and fitness centers to resume operations May 4 under strict guidelines. Hutchinson said Tuesday that he will announce next week whether restrictions on team sports will be lifted.
"I'm tired of looking at our players on Google meetings," Bentonville West football Coach Bryan Pratt said. "It's just different. A big concern is conditioning and, until we see our players actually get out there and do it, you don't know what kind of shape they're going to be in.
"I'm proud of our governor and the medical people. We can keep our fingers crossed this is the light at the end of the tunnel."
The UAMS Covid-19 Sports Committee that drafted the recommendations and guidelines includes experts from sports medicine, orthopaedic surgery, family medicine, pathology and infectious disease.
The guidelines include a detailed list of protocols for locker rooms and training rooms; tips for team gatherings, transportation and on-field hydration; equipment disinfection; and a number of other recommendations.
"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," said Wesley Cox, the committee chairman and chief of orthopaedics and sports medicine at UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. "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 make for safe students and safe communities."
One of the many recommendations by UAMS calls for high school athletes who test positive for covid-19 to be cleared by an athletic trainer or personal physician before returning. The panel also recommends that athletes be required to receive a flu shot.
Fort Smith Public Schools Athletic Director Michael Beaumont said the health and safety of everyone involved in sports remain priority No. 1.
"I'm an athletic director, and I've got no teams to direct," Beaumont said. "For six or seven weeks, we've been reacting to what's coming out of the White House, and that trickles down to the governor's office and then to the AAA. We have to be careful.
"Maybe by June or July we can return to some type of normalcy, but we should tread lightly because I have to consider the health of not only our players but our coaches and staff as well."
The panel recommended the elimination of out-of-state travel when possible, and for passengers to wear masks on bus trips.
Har-Ber and Bentonville West each have nonconference football games scheduled against out-of-state teams. Har-Ber is scheduled to travel to McKinney, Texas, on Aug. 28 to open the season.
"We're scheduled to play at home against Mansfield (Texas) Legacy on Aug. 28," Pratt said. "If out-of-state travel is eliminated then, all of a sudden, we're left without a game during Zero Week."
Southside Batesville football Coach Kenny Simpson is optimistic there will be a 2020 football season, but he admits preparing for the season is a challenge.
Last year, Simpson began distributing water bottles to his players and had water donated to the program. He said that may be a permanent plan for the Southerners now that UAMS recommends every player has his own water bottle.
Jonesboro Coach Randy Coleman said he and his staff have put together multiple plans on what to do with their football team this summer. He said his team may go into phases of nine or less players during workouts.
"But it's a tough proposition," Coleman said. "We have 110 kids in our program."
Democrat-Gazette staff writer Jeremy Muck contributed to this report.Sports on 05/17/2020