It’s been over two months since the last professional sporting event took place in the U.S., but the time for sports to return may be on the horizon.
The NBA has looked into playing the rest of its season in a single city with fewer games, and Major League Baseball has discussed playing its entire season in Arizona.
But as sports leagues look to restart, there are a few guidelines they should follow to avoid the risks of the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Glenn Copeland, medical advisor for the Toronto Blue Jays and advisor to QuestCap, a company working with sports leagues to bring sports back, says leagues should adhere to the following guidelines in order to make the return of sports safe for players, fans and stadium workers.
Divide facilities into three zones
“Each facility will have three distinct areas. The outside zone is the free zone where the world lives. The middle zone is at the entrance of the facility/arena where all participants, players, coaches, trainers, and equipment managers will be tested,” Copeland told MarketWatch.
The third zone is the “inner zone” where those who tested negative for COVID-19 can go. It’s also where the actual games and competitions will take place.
“ “Getting in is like getting into Fort Knox.” ”
These are guidelines for situations where there are no fans.
Every time a person wishes to enter the inner zone, they must first get tested in the arena entrance, aka the middle zone. No exceptions. When and if a person tests negative for coronavirus, they will be allowed to enter the inner zone.
Copeland outlines that it’s unnecessary for those who passed through the middle zone to wear any lanyards or wristbands to prove they have tested negative for COVID-19. This is because only those who are virus-free can enter that zone.
“Getting in is like getting into Fort Knox.”
People will be able to just walk out of the protected inner zone to enter the outside zone. Specialized personnel like players might get a quick temperature check and symptom check on the way out of the inner zone, according to Copeland, but most others can leave as they wish.
This concept is similar to how airports work — a series of checkpoints to get in, but leaving the protected area is as easy as walking out.
“Once the testing proves the participant is COVID-free, they will be allowed into the inner zone, which will be as COVID-free as possible. This testing will be done every day as the participants leave the outer zone and look for admission into the playing facility/inner zone,” Copeland explains.
Even in the outer zone, all people should be maintaining social distancing guidelines.
Test everybody, everyday
“Everybody. Anybody going to the inner zone. Media, players, coaches, cleaners, food service. Everybody,” Copeland says.
As stated above, testing will be conducted in the middle zone as a prerequisite to gain access to the inner zone.
Testing everybody going to the inner zone is more feasible because there will be “absolutely no fans” at the events, according to Copeland. While no official rules have been released about the presence of fans, most reporting on the resumption of sports indicates fans will not be present.
“It will include antibody/antigen testing, nasal swab testing when indicated, temperature checks, symptom checks, and evaluation by a healthcare provider before entering into the inner zone.”
Testing should occur every day for those attempting to enter the inner zone, regardless of symptoms.
Gather daily intel on all participants
“The gathering of all medical data on all participants on a day-to-day basis is also mandatory and much will be learned for the sports and the medical world as we continually monitor healthy athletes,” Copeland recommends.
Copeland recommends gathering data whenever people change zones. Test results, symptoms and temperature will be recorded in the middle zone by both league and team personnel with private data encryption software.
“Hopefully, we will be able to pick up early symptoms, whether it relates to temperature changes or physical symptoms or blood-work, that may indicate an early stage infection starting. Finds like these would be very helpful as we look at the new world of sports so that we may recognize possible early-stage infections and prevent the spread.”
As of now, sports leagues have not stated how present family members of players, coaches, or team personnel will be when the leagues resume play.
Athletes must change how they interact
“There can be no high-fiving, hugging, congratulatory slaps, or any close contact that is not part of the actual sport. Water bottles, towels, and other equipment like warm-up bats can no longer be shared,” Copeland advises.
Players going out of their way to avoid congratulating each other with a hug or high-five will seem strange to viewers but Copeland says it’s a major way to reduce risk.
Additionally, there is a higher risk factor in a sport like basketball than baseball when it comes to in-game contact. In baseball there is hardly any physical touching, while basketball players make contact with one another on almost every play.
“All equipment in the weight room and other areas will need to be sanitized between each player’s use. All uniforms and personal equipment will be sanitized on a day-to-day basis, including padding, helmets, jerseys, and undergarments. Every clubhouse should be fully sanitized at least twice every 24 hours.”
Social distancing must remain in place, even within the “inner zone”
“Social distancing in the clubhouse, lunchroom, weight room, and trainers room must be obeyed. Self-regulation by all participants will be very important…where these participants eat, sleep, and socialize will become most important,” Copeland says.
Copeland claims that even inside the safest of the three outlined zones, large gatherings should not be permitted.
“There will be no large gatherings, especially outside of the inner zone. Unfortunately, there will be no intermingling with fans, no signing of autographs, and no socializing with friends who are not part of the participating team.”
The NBA could be the first professional sport in the U.S. to resume, as the league is targeting a June or July resumption of play at the Walt Disney World Resort DIS, +0.16% property in Orlando, according to The Athletic.