While professional sports leagues are cancelling or suspending their seasons, recreational athletes may be wondering what they should do in response to the new coronavirus.
The NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer have announced they are suspending their seasons amid the pandemic. But what about house leagues, pick-up games and children’s sports tournaments?
The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through airborne droplets by coughing or sneezing, through touching a surface those droplets have touched, or through personal contact with infected people.
Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
The World Health Organization recommends regular hand-washing and physical distancing – that is, keeping at least two metres from someone with a cough. If you have to cough or sneeze, do it into your sleeve or a tissue, not your hands. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose if you can.
The CDC says to frequently clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
- If you show symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical attention and do what your health-care provider recommends. That may include staying home from work or school and getting lots of rest until the symptoms go away.
COVID-19 is much more serious for older adults. As a precaution, older adults should continue frequent and thorough hand-washing, and avoid exposure to people with respiratory symptoms.
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If you’re wondering whether to suit up for pick-up basketball this weekend or attend your child’s soccer match, here’s what the experts have to say:
Should you sit this one out?
Public health officials say anyone who has or is suspected of having COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, should self-isolate and not go out in public.
And those who are self-monitoring for symptoms, which includes anyone who has been in contact with someone with the new coronavirus or recently travelled to an affected country, should avoid crowds, the Public Health Agency of Canada says.
They should also avoid going anywhere where they can’t self-isolate quickly if they begin to experience symptoms, such as fever, cough and difficulty breathing. (If you do have symptoms, self-isolate as soon as possible, and call the public health authority in your area.)
But with this new coronavirus, scientists now know that people can be infectious for days before they start showing symptoms, or they can be shedding the virus for weeks without becoming sick themselves, says Greta Bauer, professor in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.
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“This makes it really hard to estimate the possibility of coming into contact with someone who is infected, or virus from such a person,” she says.
Her advice: “Right now I would avoid all non-essential group activities beyond small groups. Every infection we can prevent now represents multiple infections prevented in the coming weeks.”
Can the new coronavirus be spread through sweat?
The short answer is maybe. While you can’t spread coronaviruses through sweaty feet or a sweaty body, you can spread them through respiratory droplets. And when you’re exercising and panting, these droplets that come from your mouth and nose can get mixed in with the sweat from your face and on your hands, says Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code and The Germ Files.
“If you are in the gym or around other individuals, and you are exercising to the point where you’re sweating and breathing hard, the likelihood is you will have an increased risk of transfer,” he says.
However, he says, since previous virus outbreaks, such as the recent mumps outbreaks among NHL athletes, have not led to widespread cancellations of large-scale events, the sporting world’s response to the new coronavirus appears to be more about protecting fans and the general public than it is about protecting players.
If you’ve decided to play anyway, what measures can you take?
While some sports leagues were planning to hold regular games and practices until they received further guidance from public health authorities, they encouraged players to take precautions. In a statement earlier this week, for example, the Ontario Minor Hockey Association recommended measures, such as introducing fist bumps with hockey gloves instead of shaking hands, ensuring each player has his or her own water bottle that is labelled and washed after each practice or game, and avoiding sharing towels on the team bench.
And, as public health officials recommend, wash your hands.
What makes a crowd risky?
The risk of infection increases with the size of the crowd. But size isn’t all that matters. Other factors to consider include where the gathering or event is taking place, and who is attending, says Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta.
The risk is greater if you’re attending an event in a place where it’s believed there is community spread of the disease – that is, individuals are becoming infected from others within their community, she says. It is also greater if the event is in an area where there have been deaths from COVID-19, even if it’s an area not believed to have community spread, because that means it’s likely many people there could have the disease but are not tested, she says.
Participating in gatherings where people are attending from all over the world also increases your risk, she says.
For sporting events in particular, Dr. Saxinger adds, people can be clustered together in close quarters in changing rooms.
“That would be a concern for me,” she says, noting the ability for venue staff to adequately clean the environment is important, too.
Moreover, at high-stakes events, like championship tournaments, people may be motivated to minimize their symptoms because they really want to participate, she says. Events organizers, at minimum, should be screening people for travel in the previous 14 days, and for any symptoms before allowing them to enter any kind of shared space, she says.
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