Youth Sports during the Pandemic: Can Children Return to the Field Safely?

After a year of sheltering in place, Americans may soon reemerge into the world without fear of contracting the virus. The United States is currently on track to achieve herd immunity as over three million shots of vaccines that protect against COVID-19 are administered every day, according to the data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of March 31. By the end of April, the government hopes to inoculate a total of 200 million doses of vaccines in arms.

Researchers estimate that the nation needs to vaccinate 70% to 85% of the population to achieve herd immunity. If the current rate of daily inoculations is sustained, by October, about 70% of Americans will have received their vaccines. When that happens, the virus that causes COVID-19 will stop spreading. Life will go back to normal.

Right now, the U.S. is still reporting tens of thousands of positive cases every day. The public health authorities recommend that people continue to follow minimum health protocols including the wearing of masks and physical distancing.

The Impact of the Pandemic on the Health of Children

However, children have been cooped up indoors for far too long. During the past year, with sporting events canceled and interaction with people outside of the household discouraged, young people have adopted a sedentary lifestyle. They do not get opportunities to engage in physical activity.

Because of lack of movement, a lot of children are at risk of obesity. In one study conducted in the past year, researchers monitored 41 children during a lockdown in Verona, Italy. All participants were already enrolled in a program to treat obesity.

They found that, compared to the year before, the participants were eating an additional meal every day during the pandemic. They also were sleeping more and spending more time in front of screens. They also reduced the amount of time they spent on physical activity by two hours.

Children, who were already under treatment for obesity, undid their progress during the pandemic. However, those who have a healthier BMI were not in a better condition.

More than ever, youth sports are needed to encourage kids to become physically active once again. But, is it safe to send your child back to the field or court?

An Additional Safety Equipment

While the virus is still around and spreading, there is a risk that children who come in contact with another person outside of their household, will get infected. Luckily, at this point, we all know how COVID-19 spread and, therefore, how to avoid it.

Aside from a high-quality mouth guard and a helmet, members of youth sports have to wear a face mask. A fabric that covers their nose and mouth are now part of the safety gear that they should wear during practice or during a match, especially indoors. This was the suggestion by the American Academy of Pediatrics which released updated guidance in December. There are exceptions such as swimming and diving, cheerleading and gymnastics, and wrestling.

Children will need to get used to being physically active while wearing a mask but, eventually, they will be able to do vigorous exercises with a face covering. Studies have shown that wearing a mask while exercising does not have any adverse health consequences. Children can get exercise and be protected from COVID-19.

Gradual Return to Sports

COVID-19 is a tricky disease because, as previous studies have found, it can leave patients who were infected with cardiovascular problems that persist months later. Even those who initially did not experience any serious symptoms experienced myocarditis, a condition in which the heart muscle gets inflamed.

Children who have been previously infected need to go back to doing physical activity again, but it should be gradual. The intensity should begin at the lowest and then built up in time. Young athletes are encouraged to see a doctor before going back to practice. They should undergo thorough testing. When they go back to the field or court, they should also monitor symptoms such as chest pains, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.

Train Outside as Much as Possible

Doing vigorous exercise while indoors is a health and safety risk. During physical activity, people tend to breathe deeper and faster, expelling more droplets and aerosols into the air. Without ventilation, these droplets and aerosols linger in the air and expose more people to the virus.

Outdoors, however, the air is fresh and space is larger. Potentially contaminated droplets and aerosols will dissipate almost immediately. If masks are worn and distancing is enforced, the risk of infection is further minimized.

Training outdoors, therefore, is more advisable to protect young athletes from COVID-19. Moreover, exercises should be done with smaller groups. If a member of the team starts experiencing symptoms or has been in close contact with a confirmed case, they should stay home to self-isolate.

There is still a risk of COVID-19. Until the nation reaches herd immunity, the situation will not change for a while longer. However, there are also health consequences of staying indoors all the time and being sedentary. Doing sports during the pandemic is possible as long as everyone follows the rules.

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