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Returning to play

    Since the COVID-19 pandemic has become part of our landscape, the virus has proven to serve as another variable for parents to consider when making decisions involving their kids. This is especially true in the youth sports world. Some common questions parents find themselves asking are: Are sports safe? What extra precautions should my athlete take? How do I handle the situation if my athlete has been exposed to COVID-19?

    The experts from the Sports Medicine Center pulled together some thoughts to help address some of these important questions, but due to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation and available evidence this information is subject to change. The first thing parents should do is follow the state and local governing bodies with regards to their phased approach to social gatherings and physical distancing. That is going to be the best approach as each regional agency has the best information regarding COVID-19 exposures in your area.

    The decision to participate in sports and spectate at sporting events will be dependent on athletes, families and sports clubs in concordance with the above-mentioned rules and regulations from authorities. Participants and spectators should understand that social interaction and congregation increase the risk of individuals becoming ill from infection and potentially spreading the virus to family members and the community

    If your athlete is planning on returning to sport, make sure this is also a gradual process so your growing athlete can get back into shape, acclimate or develop tolerance to the heat and decrease their risk of injury.

    In addition to looking at state and local information, we also recommend  you check in with the coaches and governing agencies of the sport your child will be playing and make sure there is a screening process in place regarding symptom checklists and even temperature checks prior to each practice or competition. With the symptom checklist*, coaches should ask each participant if in the past 48 hours they have experienced:

    • Fever over 100.0 degrees
    • New or worsening cough
    • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
    • Sore throat, different than your seasonal allergies
    • New loss of smell or taste
    • Diarrhea or vomiting or nausea
    • Muscle or body aches or fatigue
    • Headache
    • A household member or close contact who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days

    *This screening checklist is subject to change. Follow the CDC website for the most up-to-date symptoms that have been associated with COVID-19.

    If anyone involved in the sport, whether an athlete, coach, staff member, official or spectator, is feeling sick or ill, even with mild symptoms, they should NOT attend a practice or competition. If anyone has been diagnosed with COVID-19, is suspected to have a COVID-19 infection, has symptoms of COVID-19 or has had a presumed positive infection, we recommend you consult with your primary care physician PRIOR to returning to sport.

    At practices and competitions, here are some general recommendations for returning to play:

    • Encourage the use of a sign-in roster/list to allow for contact tracing.
    • It is recommended that coaches, staff, school participants and spectators wear masks or face protection.
    • Masks should be worn by athletes when not participating and may be considered while actively participating in their sport.
    • At minimum, everyone should wash their hands with soap and water (minimum 20 seconds) OR uses hand sanitizer before AND after practice or competition.
    • Clean and wipe down any equipment, at minimum before AND after practice or competition; more frequently pending if high contact piece of equipment (i.e., multiple athletes are using it during a practice of competition setting).
    • Do NOT share water bottles, equipment, towels, etc.
    • No team huddles, handshakes or fist bumps should take place.
    • Maintain physical distancing (at least six feet) from teammates, coaches and other players at all times when possible, at minimum when taking breaks and between games.
    • Allow for physical distancing in common areas including bathrooms, stands, sidelines or dugouts.
    • Do not allow locker room, shower, sauna, hot tub/cold tub or pool use.
    • All machines and equipment MUST be properly cleaned before and after each individual use.
    • Limit the number of event sites as to not spread resources thin and increase exposure risk.
    • Discourage tournaments that cannot adhere to national, state or local directives on physical distancing, on and off the field of play.
    • Follow CDC, local and state guidelines with regards to travel recommendations

    Because all sports are different, the risks associated with each are also different. In general terms, the sports listed below are classified as low-, medium- and high-risk, because of the anticipated proximity and contact with other athletes, ability to adjust for physical distancing, use of masks and proper hand and respiratory hygiene.

    Low-risk sports include:

    • Individual running events
    • Cross country with staggered starts
    • Golf
    • Sideline cheerleading
    • Weightlifting
    • Bowling
    • Fishing
    • Swimming (individual races)
    • Diving
    • Bicycling
    • Dance* (Individual)

    Medium-risk sports include:

    • Basketball
    • Volleyball
    • Soccer
    • Baseball
    • Softball
    • Ice hockey
    • Tennis
    • Swimming (relays)
    • Women’s lacrosse

    High-risk sports include:

    • Football
    • Wrestling
    • Men’s lacrosse
    • Competitive cheerleading
    • Dance* (group/competitive)
    • Martial arts
    • Field hockey

    Youth sports provide great benefits for our children. These sports offer opportunities for exercise, which is crucial for health, and team sports also aid in socialization and learning how to be part of a community. Our athletes need these opportunities, which have all been lacking during the pandemic. As parents, it is important to remember there are risks involved with having our athletes return to play. Even with all the aforementioned recommendations, there will always be risk. The hope is to lower those risks as much as possible. Play healthy Kansas City!

    This is not meant to replace medical advice and if you have questions, you should contact your child’s primary care provider or the sports medicine clinic.

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    Sports Medicine, Pediatric Orthopaedics (Non-Surgical)

    Pediatrician; Primary Care Sports Medicine and Non-Operative Pediatric Orthopaedics Physician; Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine