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Local doctor examines the risk of playing sports during the COVID-19 pandemic

UH Infectious disease expert, Dr. Amy Edwards, weighs in on if the virus can transmit through sweat and the dangers of locker rooms.

CLEVELAND — As sports from high school and college to the pros debate whether to play and how to play, they're all analyzing the risks involved.

“High school sports is a really important part of the high school experience. I know, I did high school athletics,” says Dr. Amy Edwards, University Hospitals Pediatric Infectious Disease. “I can’t imagine how devastated I would have been had somebody told me that I couldn’t participate in sports.”

Dr. Edwards, a former Division 1 college athlete and currently an infectious disease expert, says she understands why everyone is trying to find a way to keep athletics alive during the Coronavirus pandemic. However, she’s not sure it’s a good idea.

“I just can’t imagine that sports right now are more important than people’s health,” says Dr. Edwards.

Currently the OHSAA is planning a 6-game season for high school football, however, some schools have already postponed their fall sports. So, what are the risks and how can athletic programs mitigate them? 

We already know about social distancing and mask wearing to cut back on spreading through the nose and mouth, but what are the chances of passing it through sweat?

Dr. Edwards says, “Pretty low, sweat would be an unusual way for a respiratory virus to transmit. For the vast majority of people, they don’t need to worry about sweat.”

Dr. Edwards says there’s not a lot of research into sweat transmission of COVID-19, but she feels that it isn’t of great concern. She does, however worry about locker rooms.

“A bunch of people changing and wiping their face and throwing towels,” says Dr. Edwards. “You can actually generate new droplets or even aerosols by that type of activity.”

With very careful planning and changes to the structure of some events, Dr. Edwards says she could see some sports with less contact pulling off some type of season. She suggests golf, which is naturally socially distant, as well as swimming which has defined lanes as well as the built-in chlorine effect. 

However, as a former athlete herself, she fears starting and abruptly stopping a sport maybe more difficult for students.

“To give kids this false hope that everything is just going to return to normal, only to take it away from them a couple of weeks later just seems almost more cruel,” says Dr. Edwards. “Let’s build realistic expectations of what the 2020-2021 school year is going to be like.”