Nearly three months after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States, professional sports leagues are putting plans together on how to resume or begin their respective seasons.
But a report published by The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach on Sunday explained some local doctors are concerned about the dangers the virus could pose to athletes.
From daily testing for players and staff to wearing personal protective equipment, there will be plenty of changes once leagues resume play. Several leagues are expected to opt to complete their seasons in a “hub” city to trim the risk of transmission as much as possible until a champion is declared.
Athletes competing in sports that require close contact, like basketball and football, likely will be at the greatest risk of transmission. And while some studies show the coronavirus cannot be spread via sweat, doctors still have some serious concerns.
“If someone’s breathing really hard as opposed to breathing quietly, there’s going to be a fairly greater risk,” said UMass Memorial Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Richard Ellison. “So if you’re in a sport where you’re routinely within 2-3 feet of someone else’s face and they’re breathing hard or yelling, there’s a real possibility you’re going to get exposed to respiratory droplets and breathe in the virus.”
The older population, of course, must be considered, too.
“You’re going to have to think about the vulnerable populations that are involved with the teams, meaning the coaches, the other ancillary personnel,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There are many coaches that are over 50 years old that are in higher-risk groups, and coaches with other medical problems like hypertension that you’re going to have to think about.”
Locker rooms also could become a problem, Adalja says, due to the inability to properly social distance. Adalja believes locker room etiquette “will have to change” to accommodate if leagues want to avoid an outbreak after play resumes.
Ultimately, lots of things will have to change should sports resume play in any capacity. And with players continuing to test positive for the virus three months after sports paused, there’s still a clear risk for contraction.
“As we move forward and start resuming sports, there’s really not going to be a black-or-white answer,” Adalja said. “Everything is going to be shades of gray, because in the era of the pandemic, until there’s a vaccine, any activity that enhances social interaction there’s going to be a non-zero risk of transmission. So the only thing we can do is try to reduce the harm.”
They certainly will try, but will they succeed?