Phase 1 of return to sports has allowed for group activities up to 10 people, outdoors. As we ramp up towards the next phase, we will see larger groups convening, but at least 14 days of practice at this introductory level are recommended in this trial-and-error approach to reopening. The idea is to slowly titrate activities while monitoring numbers to be sure that we do not allow for another spike in cases.
Personal protective equipment such as masks for players while not actively engaged in sport, coaches, and site staff are required. Hand hygiene includes frequent hand washing, and use of hand sanitizer. Avoidance of touching the face and use of a clean towel to wipe sweat can help reduce the spread of germs. There should be no shared equipment or water stations, and a personal water bottle should be brought to each practice.
A daily symptoms inventory will be required to be completed daily, before arriving to practice. Some schools may be providing this as a paper form, while our teams and organizations are encouraged to complete this task electronically on the Sway platform. If athletes do not have access to a thermometer, a staff member will need to have a thermometer to take temperatures upon arrival.
Pre-participation examinations for sport participation are still required at this time as the New Jersey Bill, S-2518, passed the Senate on June 15, but awaits ratification in the Assembly. There is also the requirement of the COVID questionnaire to prompt athletic trainers and medical staff to obtain medical clearance after COVID infection for student-athletes.
As far as travel, this will be on the honor system – it will be up to the family to report any travel to “hot spots,” or if there is suspicion of contact with someone who has COVID-19. Anyone that comes into close contact, or prolonged contact, with a person infected with COVID will mandate a 14 days quarantine. If symptoms of COVID develop in a member of your team, anyone that has been in contact with that person should be quarantined 14 days from the last day of exposure to the infected person. This includes exposure extending 2 days prior to symptoms onset and through resolution of symptoms. Those exposed in other environments, such as to a family member with COVID in the home, should follow a similar approach to quarantine. Exposed persons will notify the team administrator to be sure that contact tracing can be completed and infections limited.
The infectious period lasts from 2 days prior to symptoms onset through 14 days after exposure. Those infected should remain isolated for 72 hours (3 days) after the fever ends and the symptoms begin to improve. The contact tracing course at Johns Hopkins is free and worthwhile for anyone with interest in understanding this process more fully.
As of today, July 10th – the NJSIAA has announced that there will be a ‘ Model 1 – Delayed Fall Season.’ The summer recess period will continue through Friday, August 28th. From that point, through Sunday, September 13th, coaches may only contact their athletes virtually. There will be no in-person practices, scrimmages, or games allowed. The Task Force has recognized that the main priority for all student-athletes is to acclimate to the classroom prior to focusing on sports. This ultimately will lead to shorter fall sport seasons. Pre-season start dates will begin on September 14th, and run in accordance with local school district policies. The regular season is planned to begin between September 29th and October 2nd depending on the sport. Any decision to move away from Model 1 planning will be announced by the end of the summer recesses period.
Will sports ever be normal again? Yes. Unfortunately, during this time of re-entry of various populations to a multitude of activities, controlling infections and containing pockets of infection will be challenging. Using the approach of slowly introducing activity in the lowest risk, and monitoring at each stage of increasing risk to be sure we are not seeing a spike, we can hopefully identify infections early and reduce the complications and death that COVID brings to populations when it spreads uncontrollably. Schools and administrators of sports organizations should consider alternatives such as these from Aspen Project Play.
For those infected with COVID and trying to return to activity, cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue commonly interfere with progress. It is important to realize that although COVID is a pulmonary disease, it does possess the ability to cross into the blood stream and directly impact blood vessels, the heart, the kidney, and other organs. Cardiac and Pulmonary concerns may require specialist clearance for return to play. A stepwise approach with monitoring is the mainstay of Atheltic progression protocols as demonstrated in the following table.