The life of an athletic trainer during COVID-19

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danielmayes, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
·4 min read
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Apr. 5—For the athletic trainers of local high school sports teams, one of the many unseen changes that have come with working in the medical field during the COVID-19 pandemic is the scheduling havoc.

"There are many sports I deal with, which means there are many opportunities for teams to get shut down or games to be rescheduled due to exposure to COVID-19," said Amanda Burden, the certified athletic trainer at Hamilton Health Care System who works with Dalton High School's sports teams.

One week, "we had four games cancelled due to either my team or the opponent team getting shut down because of COVID," Burden said. "We made the games up the next week, which gave me two or three sports going each day for five days in a row. You never know when you will go from a week full of games to no games, or a week where you have to make everything up."

The semi-permanent schedule, which would normally be affected just by the weather, used to be one of the most reliable fixtures of a trainer's job that could shift at the sight of an athlete going down on the field.

The job now is filled with masks, temperature checks and creative uses of space, but trainers take all those precautions to keep helping student athletes stay as safe as possible.

"It's different with requiring masks and social distancing requirements," said Morgan Williams, Hamilton's trainer at Coahulla Creek High. "That's affected, too, how many students I can have in my training room at a time."

"Before the pandemic, I could have more athletes in my room at a time for treatment," Burden said. "Now I have had to get creative in finding outside spaces to spread out the athletes so we can adhere to these guidelines."

Trainers have always served as the first resource for student athletes with an affliction, whether they sustain a physical injury or are feeling under the weather.

Burden said that trainers now have to pay close attention to any symptoms that might be a sign of COVID-19.

"No longer can we just chalk up respiratory symptoms to allergies or a small cold," Burden said. "We now need to take it more seriously and refer them to the proper doctors, for the safety of other athletes, staff and me."

A student athlete's visit to a trainer begins with a check to make sure they've taken a health questionnaire and are wearing a mask. Students at Dalton have already had their temperatures checked, Burden said, but she makes another check when they arrive. Should the trainer suspect a student athlete may have COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who does, they're sent home to minimize contact with the rest of the team and staff.

Trainers, too, have had to help reintroduce players back to the field after they have contracted COVID-19. Once they've cleared the proper amount of quarantining time and are exhibiting no symptoms, trainers help make sure they're prepared to step back onto the field, pitch or court again.

"There hasn't been any time when a student comes back and is just thrown back out there to play in a game," said Williams.

"At my school, we have been following the Georgia High School Association's recommendations for return to play for quarantined athletes," Burden said. "This is usually a five-day period, after the athlete's quarantine, where they start with very light activity and work their way back to full activity by day five."

Then, Burden said, the athlete's ability to return is based on how they respond to the acclimation period. Everyone deals with the effects of the virus differently.

"I have had athletes who have bounced back quickly. You would have never known that they were sick or quarantined at all," she said. "I have also had athletes who have taken longer than the five-day return to play due to respiratory issues and fatigue. Most of the lasting effects that I have seen are trouble catching their breath and increased fatigue with simple activities. Every athlete is different and, while we do have set guidelines to follow, we need to take each individual into account as well."

Burden said she thinks the pandemic has changed the way trainers work permanently — in some ways. But, a return to a slightly more normal work flow could come soon.

"This pandemic has forced us to become more flexible with our work schedules as well as make sure that we take even the smallest symptom seriously, especially with respiratory illnesses," Burden said. "It has also reinforced how important it is to keep our athletic training rooms and equipment clean and sanitized for our health and safety as well as our athletes. I do believe that if we follow the safety guidelines, we will be able to go back to having our athletic training rooms open more and not have all the screenings before we allow athletes in."