When the school year stopped abruptly in early March, the interruption to sports had many athletes and athletic trainers feeling lost, uncertain and sorting through feelings of a breakup with little warning. As COVID-19 forced school districts across the country to shut down normal day-today operations, social distancing has affected more than practices, workouts, competitions and classes.
When athletic trainers cannot provide face-toface treatment, how do they continue to care for high school athletes? The pandemic did not care about the soccer player who was starting prehab for her upcoming ACL surgery, or the track athlete who had a stress fracture or the offensive lineman who was doing therapy after having surgery for labrum repair on his shoulder.
The pandemic didn’t care about who would be monitoring the cheerleader who has a concussion and is trying to do virtual learning, or about who would be helping the student who is having anxiety issues because his parent was just laid off or a family member is now sick?
Also, to combat the issues, many schools receive the services of athletic trainers on an outreach basis from hospitals or clinics, and many of these individuals have seen their job changed to being screeners for their employer or found themselves furloughed and no longer working. For athletic trainers who are hired directly by schools, many cannot access their rooms with all the tools and records of progress used to monitor the student- athletes. So how are these student-athletes still having their health-care needs met during a time when there is no protocol for social distancing rehabilitation?
Much like the virtual classroom, athletic trainers are seeing virtual athletic training rooms/clinics become the new norm. With the help of technologies like Google Hangout, Google Classroom, Facetime, Zoom and Skype, licensed athletic trainers are finding ways to reach the student-athletes who need them more now than ever.
Athletic trainers are seeing student-athletes from the comfort of their homes and walking them through injury evaluations, advancing their therapy protocols, prescribing home exercise programs and checking in on the students to see how they are doing. Much like the physicians who oversee them or their other healthcare providers, telemedicine is becoming the mode of delivery. Student- athletes or parents/guardians can schedule a time or reach their athletic trainer to do face-to-face meetings over the internet. The athletic trainer can then also use the technology to communicate with physicians or other health-care providers to give or get updates regarding that particular student’s condition. It is not always ideal, but they are making it work and having great success in doing so.
Many athletic trainers are also using the time to do virtual learning themselves by taking online continuing education courses. Additionally, they are working to update the school district’s athletic training health-care policies and procedures manual. Some timely and needed updates include changes to the prevention and handling of communicable diseases, facility cleaning, personal protective equipment and writing new policies for their school district in conjunction with school nurses and other allied health-care professionals regarding COVID-19. These include but are not limited to: no sharing of athletic equipment, no shared water bottles, towels, cleaning and maintenance schedules for athletic equipment, facilities, water cows, hand-washing protocols, protocols for when a student-athlete is sick or not feeling well.
The greatest thing about athletic trainers is that they are resourceful and they do not adhere to the word “no” very well by nature. They will find a way, oftentimes rising above and beyond the call when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their student-athletes. The goal of an athletic trainer is not to hold an athlete from competition, but rather ensure the safety of the athlete participating in any competition.
Athletic trainers want the best for their student-athletes. Hopefully, this interruption in normalcy gives everyone time to reflect on the best practices to ensure optimal health care for the athletes. Much like everyone else, athletic trainers are missing the lights, the cheers from the crowds, the wins, the losses, the highfives and the bus rides. More than anything else, however, athletic trainers miss the students and their co-workers. HST
Valerie Webber is the head athletic trainer and assistant athletic director at St. Andrew’s School in Barrington, Rhode Island. Jason Cates is the director of athletic training for Cabot Public Schools in Arkansas and a member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Mark D’Anza has been at Durango High School in Las Vegas since 2008. He began as an athletic trainer and has transitioned to a full-time role as a classroom teacher.