Wellness Wednesday: keeping student-athletes healthy during a pandemic

Posted at 8:03 AM, Aug 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-26 10:36:21-04

BOISE, Idaho — The future of fall and winter sports for many school districts around the country is still unknown as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Some NCAA programs are forgoing the upcoming fall sports season, including the Mountain West Conference. But for those pressing on, how can we keep our student-athletes safe?

Dr. Derek Kunz, a sports medicine specialist at Saint Alphonsus, says there are a number of concerns to think about before starting the season.

"The biggest one would be these athletes are potentially going to be out, being exposed to COVID-19, and for the most part, the younger athletes are going to contract the virus and have minimal symptoms, but this is a new virus we don't have a lot of experience with so there are cases where younger individuals get really, really sick, and unfortunately, we don't know what the risk factors are for who in terms of young athletes might be affected more than others," explains Dr. Kunz.

Another concern: student-athletes being around family members who are more vulnerable to the virus. If an athlete is asymptomatic or has minimal symptoms, Dr. Kunz says that doesn't mean they can't spread it to someone else who would have more significant symptoms or possibly die from virus complications.

Some contact sports, like football or wrestling, have already resumed in parts of the country. Should those return this fall in Idaho, Dr. Kunz says parents, school districts, and athletes need to look to local health districts and other governing bodies to make the best and safest decisions possible.

"I feel like those individuals are really trying to make decisions with the best interests in mind in terms of the athletes and the general population so if it's deemed to be too risky for sports participation, then parents and athletes really need to go by that," he says. "If the governing bodies and the health officials say that it's okay to take part in these kinds of sports and the CDC guidelines and recommendations are being upheld, I feel like parents and athletes should have confidence in that."

Dr. Kunz still suggests even if contact sports move forward, they'll need to find a way to limit that contact as much as possible. During practices, they can turn to individual drills or focus on personal skill development where there isn't as much physical contact.

The uncertainty surrounding fall sports has led to some student-athletes feeling more anxiety or feelings of depression. Dr. Kunz says while this year won't be traditional with fans in the stands or a regular sports schedule, students can still keep moving and finding new ways to play their sport, even if it's in the backyard.

For more on youth sports and COVID-19, click here. Mental health resources can also be found here and here.