Children's Hospital Colorado

COVID-19 Return to Play Guidelines for Youth Sports

As communities continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, youth sports are on the minds of many who seek a sense of normalcy. Given the unprecedented circumstances posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic, there is no definitive road map for success, but experts across the country are creating guidance for youth sports during the pandemic.

Julie Wilson, MD, and Aaron Provance, MD, physicians in the Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Sports Medicine Center,  offered some COVID-19 return to play guidelines.

Remain cautious about COVID-19

Athletes and their families need to decide for themselves if they are comfortable returning to athletic training or competition. Athletes who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (or were presumed to be positive) must obtain medical clearance from their primary care provider prior to return to sports participation.

Youth sports organizations, teams and their members should be aware that COVID-19 is still an emerging disease, and information and guidelines related to this disease are subject to change. In addition, there is no way to completely avoid risk of exposure, disease transmission or serious illness, which may include death. Youth sports organizations should weigh the potential risks and benefits when considering resumption of training or competition, and coordinate with public health officials as they’re able.

Infection risk will likely vary by sport, depending on the physical proximity of athletes and coaches, duration of close proximity, the total number of people present and the vaccination status of those participating. Organizations and teams should modify training and competition to align with current local public health recommendations.

COVID-19 return to play protocol

In order to resume any in-person training (even individual or small group sessions), youth sports organizations and teams should develop protocols in several areas that align with public health guidelines and CDC recommendations.

COVID-19 screening for athletes, coaches and staff

Everyone participating in training or competition should be screened for:

  • Current or recent symptoms of COVID-19
  • Potential or known exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Travel outside of local city/county area, especially to areas with higher rates of disease transmission
  • Athletes, coaches or staff who screen positive must stay at home and should contact their healthcare provider for medical advice if they develop symptoms and for guidance on returning to work and sports.

COVID-19 infection prevention measures for training sessions and competition

Youth sports organizations should take the following precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Maintain physical distancing requirements consistent with public health orders by keeping the following in mind:
    • Maintain 6 feet of distance when entering and exiting venues.
    • Control the number of participants in training sessions.
    • Control the number of spectators.
  • Avoid shared equipment and water stations.
    • Participants must use their own water bottle, towel and other personal supplies.
  • Maintain hand hygiene stations (hand sanitizer or soap and water).
  • Frequently clean equipment and facilities.
  • Follow face covering guidelines for coaches, staff and spectators (if present) consistent with local public health orders, and for athletes when not involved in active training.
  • Athletes, coaches and staff should follow public health guidelines for reducing risk of infection.

Develop a COVID-19 response plan

Create a COVID-19 response plan that will help your organization act quickly and safely in the event of a positive test or potential exposure. Include the following steps:

  • Keep track of athletes, coaches and staff present at training sessions to facilitate contact tracing in the event of symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test.
  • Communicate promptly to potentially exposed parties in line with public health guidelines, including information regarding how to self-isolate and how to quarantine.
  • Adjust and postpone training in the event of possible or confirmed COVID-19 exposure in training sessions.

Continue to provide or recommend sports physical evaluations

Drs. Wilson and Provance recommend that all youth athletes see their primary care provider for an annual wellness exam, including sport pre-participation evaluations. The primary care setting is most appropriate for managing mental health issues, possible cardiac or pulmonary conditions that may arise after COVID-19 and many other aspects of adolescent care. In addition, athletes with past COVID-19 infection may be at risk of heart complications following their illness.

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