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Six Tips to Address COVID-19 Within Athletic Medicine

The COVID-19 public health situation translates to Athletic Medicine and will impact how we traditionally deliver care to athletes. Given our current athletics shutdown, it is our job as athletic healthcare leaders to becoming forward-thinking around crisis management and recovery.

  1. Identify the impact of social distancing for athletic institutions 

We are now all encouraged to abide by new thoughts around social distancing, in both our personal and professional lives. There are some very specific areas associated with athletic medicine that need to be considered and where changes must take place.

  • Hot and cold tubs: There is now, more than ever, the need for individualized delivery of these services and more frequent cleaning and sanitization of these modalities.
  • Potential overcrowding in training and locker room facilities: With the suggestion to reduce the frequency of visits to health care facilities and provide adequate space for patients and athletes to function while maintaining social distancing, we need to think about when and how teams visit facilities and how much space is offered in locker room facilities - especially visiting locker room facilities (i.e. FB and Lacrosse), for example.
  • Travel restrictions: Areas for consideration include the number of people traveling and also the spacing available on busses and planes. 
  1. Address athlete personal health and hygiene 

There is clear evidence that personal health and hygiene are the number one preventative factors for reducing the risk of infection and spread from an infection like COVID-19.

  • Shared items: This includes issues like not sharing towels and water bottles during training, practices, and games.
  • Staff Protection: Recognize the need for continued use for protective equipment like gloves, face masks, and shields with your staff and athletes when appropriate.
  • Individual Health: Athletic institutions also need to prioritize proper rest, sleep, nutrition, activity periodization, and planning for athletes during this time.
  • Facilities: We also need to consider all training room facilities as healthcare facilities, and as such, will need to be held to the same standards as our medical facilities as far as quality assurance and appropriate protocols.
  1. Consider new models of athletic healthcare delivery

With the rapid increase of virtual health options, such as virtual visits and telehealth, athletic institutions will need to introduce similar options to ensure sick athletes are not coming to training room facilities until screened. Try to manage as many issues remotely now, when possible.

  • Athletes: Athletes will need options for simple follow-ups to be completed in virtual domains.
  • Records access: Electronic medical records provides us the virtual domain to allow us to do all of these things, but this will be a change in practice for all of us.
  • Staffing: Additionally, consider limiting the number of healthcare personnel in a room or involved in an athlete's care; the training of students, residents, fellows, etc. is going to change going forward and athletic organizations will need to adapt to those changes.
  1. Coordinate sport performance, health and safety

Collectively, there will be an added emphasis on evidence-based practice with Sport Performance personnel—Strength and Conditioning, Nutrition and Sports Science.  We are already seeing concern regarding return to training and sport activity in the Athletic Medicine communities.

  • Athletic Administrators: Athletic administrators will need to consider further multi-disciplinary cooperation within athletic medicine and sport performance providers.
  • Coaches: Collaboration with sport specific coaches, administration, sports medicine and sport performance personnel is needed to ensure training and sport-specific activities are coordinated with health and safety best practices.
  • Athletic Medicine: Athletic Medicine staff will serve as the coordinators of best practice with respect to athlete health, wellness and safety for student athletes.
  1. Shift from individualized healthcare to community-based health care

Athletic institutions will inevitably be making more decisions in the future regarding the health and safety not only of individuals but also communities, including teams.  Considerations for community-based decisions include:

  • Excluding athletes with fever from traveling with their team
  • Preventing athletes and teams from traveling to areas with higher issues of disease burden
  • Increasing focus on visiting teams and their overall health
  • Identifying recent illnesses that could put your teams and communities at risk.
  • Considering how your team will interact in facilities with each other—from lifting to eating.
  1. Increase focus on health and safety

The increased focus on health and safety will become a growing focus for athletic venues, competitions, practices, personnel, and athletes. What was previously a consideration will now become a significant priority for all of these areas.

This shift will force athletic organizations at all levels to consider personnel and roles, utilize skill sets to their fullest potential, and consider a true transformation to deliver on the issues above.

Initiate these discussions and the changes that are coming in the post-COVID-19 athletics culture with your staff, athletes, and institution stakeholders.  

Additional Resource (Article): Return to Sport Following COVID-19: Perspective and Recommendations 

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