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Teenage friends wearing masks during softball practice.

New Sports Recommendation: Cloth Face Coverings

Author: CHKD Sports Medicine, Nicole Lloyd, PT, DPT, ATC
Published Date: Monday, February 15, 2021

Playing sports during the pandemic provides both physical and mental health benefits. A structured routine and socialization with peers are just as important as the strength and cardiovascular benefits that come with regular practice. Additionally, exercise helps boost your immune system.

However, the risk of infection and transmission of the virus cannot be overlooked. Current data suggests that although children and adolescents can become infected, they are less likely to show any symptoms or to become very sick. Although more research is needed, it appears that kids ages 10 and older can spread the virus at the same rate as adults. So, while they may not become very sick, they can still contribute to overall community spread.

COVID-19 spreads via close contact with another infected person. Therefore, different sports will pose different levels of risk based on a variety of factors. These factors include the size of the team, how close the athletes are to each other while playing, whether the sport is played indoors or outdoors, and whether there is shared equipment. Ultimately, the choice to return to sports needs to be made on an individual basis. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends considering the following factors:

  • The sport and setting (indoor vs. outdoor).
  • Local disease activity.
  • Individual circumstances, including underlying health conditions that place the athlete or household contacts at high risk if exposed to the virus.

There are several ways to decrease risk with participation in sports. The AAP recommends athletes wear face coverings at all times while at group training, during competition, and on the sidelines. It is important that masks are worn correctly over both the nose and mouth. If a mask needs to be removed, that athlete should be at least 6 feet away from all other people. A mask that is fully saturated in sweat needs to be replaced. Some athletes may need to have more than one mask available for practice or games. There are a few exceptions where masks may not be needed, including sports such as singles tennis or golf where there is no close contact with other athletes. Other exceptions include competitive cheerleading (tumbling/stunting/flying), gymnastics (while on apparatuses and tumbling), wrestling (during contact drills/matches), and water sports. During these sports, the mask could become a choking hazard or limit vision while completing aerial stunts. However, all of these athletes should still wear a face covering between drills, while on the sideline, when entering or exiting the facility, and in locker rooms. Additionally, all coaches, referees, spectators, etc. should be wearing face coverings at all times.

Other strategies to limit risk include:

  • Promote good hand hygiene. This includes frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer.
  • Maintain smaller groups for training. This limits risk for exposure. If one person in the group tests positive, it also limits the amount of contact tracing needed.
  • Prioritize non-contact activity. This could include conditioning or drills where a distance of 6 feet can be maintained.
  • Regularly sanitize frequently touched surfaces and shared equipment.
  • Limit travel to other regions for competition.

This pandemic has been a new experience for all of us. While we want to get back to “normal”, it is also important to prevent further spread of COVID-19. By taking appropriate precautions, we can safely return to some of our “normal”, including sports. To read the full AAP statement on a safe return to sports, click here. If you have questions regarding these recommendations, reach out to any CHKD healthcare provider.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.