UAMS recommends return-to-play guidelines for sports in Arkansas

By: Matt Jones
Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2020
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences campus in Little Rock is shown in a June 2016 file photo.
Photo by Benjamin Krain
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences campus in Little Rock is shown in a June 2016 file photo.

— A committee of 15 professors at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on Wednesday released recommendations for athletics to resume in the state at the college and high school levels.

The UAMS covid-19 sports committee included specialists in sports medicine, orthopaedic surgery, family medicine, pathology and infectious disease.

Among the notable recommendations for college sports include:

• A negative covid-19 screening before an athlete is allowed to move back to campus, as well as active monitoring for fever or coronavirus-like symptoms

• Requirements for athletes who test positive to be sent home and quarantined

• Athletes should room only with teammates when feasible, should limit contact with non-family members and teammates, and wear masks in living quarters when social distancing is difficult

• Teams should avoid commercial flights, use bus travel when feasible and limit travelers only to essential personnel, with essential being defined as coaches, athletes and support staff

• No sharing of drink dispensers, such as water bottles, or of equipment, such as towels

• Sanitizing commonly exposed equipment, such as game balls

The panel also addressed team meetings and practices, recommending that team meetings be held virtually when possible, and that attendees should maintain a 6-foot distance when possible.

For team practices, the panel recommended separate practice times for players on the first, second and third teams, and for practice attendees to wear cloth masks when not participating in activities.

The panel recommended that athletes be required to receive a flu shot.

“Our experts developed these guidelines so teams across the state don’t have to start from scratch as they consider what a safe return to play might look like,” said Wesley Cox, committee chairman and chief of orthopaedics and sports medicine at UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. “We also wanted to provide some basic expectations for all teams so they feel they can interact and compete with the peace of mind of knowing everyone is holding themselves to the same safety standards. Safe team sports makes for safe students and safe communities.”

Several of the panel’s high school recommendations were similar to its recommendations for college teams, but were modified to address differences between college and high school teams, such as travel.

The panel recommended high school teams should eliminate out-of-state travel when possible and to wear masks on bus trips. It also recommended high school athletes who test positive for coronavirus should be cleared by a team or personal physician before being allowed to return to team activities.

“We must all work together to safely return to sports,” said C. Lowry Barnes, a committee member and chair of the UAMS Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. “At stake is the health of our athletes, our communities, our economy, our state and our nation. As soon as it is safe to do so, we want athletics to resume. To ensure continued safe play, we must remain diligent in reducing the risk of infection as much as possible.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that he will announce next week whether restrictions on team sports will be lifted. Games and practices have been suspended in the state since March on both the college and high school level.

In addition to state guidelines, college teams in Arkansas must adhere to guidelines from their individual conferences.

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