As Sars-CoV-2 (COVID-19) continues to be at the forefront of our attention, many parents are struggling with the decision of whether or not to let their child/children participate in winter/spring sports; is it safe?
You may ask why this decision would be significantly different than summer or fall sports, and the simple answer is this: Winter sports pose a higher risk due to being played indoors.
COVID risks for children
Let’s step back and review what we know about COVID-19 and pediatric patients. On the whole, pediatric patients fare much better than their adult counterparts (see updated CDC data)
Does this mean there is no risk of contracting COVID-19 for our younger athletes?
No; but the risk of significant morbidity or mortality is extremely small for individuals in this age group (10-19).
One condition that can develop due to a COVID infection is called myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. Data continues to emerge on this topic, and most of that is coming out of large universities such as Ohio State and Wisconsin studying athletes aged 18-22. It appears the risk for myocarditis with COVID-19 may be slightly higher than other viruses, but still lower than was previously thought of at the beginning of the pandemic.
However, it is still a legitimate concern, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to many other governing bodies, recommends an evaluation by a healthcare provider before returning to sports after a COVID-19 infection.
Children’s sports during COVID
We know children and adolescents need social interaction for proper development as well as regular physical activity for overall physical and mental health. It has proven to be a very difficult balance to protect children from COVID, while simultaneously ensuring they are getting the exercise and social interaction they need.
If you are having a difficult time making the decision to allow your child to participate in winter sports, you are encouraged to reach out to your primary care provider with your questions. Discuss any concerns with your doctor in their office or via a telehealth appointment. If your child has significant underlying medical conditions or somebody living in the same home is immunocompromised, then being extra-cautious is definitely merited. Check the CDC guidance regarding specific conditions that are at an increased risk or might be at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
If you decide to allow your child to participate in winter athletics, here are some guidelines to follow before and during playing sports:
- Do not share water bottles, towels, etc.
- Do not gather/change in small spaces such as a locker room.
- Wear masks when possible. If able, wear a mask while playing. Some may not be able to and that’s okay (specifically in sports such as swimming, wrestling, gymnastics where a mask may represent a choking hazard). Wear a mask when not playing. They should also be worn by coaches, parents, and spectators at all times. Of note, masks lose their effectiveness if wet, so if worn while playing, they will likely have to be changed out somewhat regularly.
- Try to practice in smaller cohorts to make contact tracing easier.
- Do not participate in large, multi-team tournaments as contact tracing is near impossible and physical distancing becomes a significant challenge.
- Limit spectators by any means necessary and ensure a minimum of 6 feet of distance between families. You should not be within 6 feet of anybody not living in your home.
- Regularly cleanse the ball and any equipment regularly used with a proper disinfectant.
- Absolutely do not play if feeling ill.
- Follow all CDC guidance regarding quarantine. If your child has a known exposure to COVID, they should be quarantined at home.
For more information, please read the updated guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
About the author: Eric Reynolds, MD, is a primary care sports medicine physician with MercyOne. His sports medicine office is at 1601 NW 114th St. Suite 240; Clive, IA 50325. You can schedule an appointment with him by calling 515-222-7348.
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This article is part of a series of sponsored articles by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center