By Dakota Busch
Athletes rely on their athletic trainers to keep them safe from injuries. However, this year, athletes are now relying on their athletic trainers to keep them safe from COVID-19.
“It is our primary responsibility to ensure the proper care of all student-athletes at the institution, and this year that task has felt more important than any other year I have been working in this setting,” said Rob Boutote, assistant athletic trainer at The University of Tampa.
Boutote is the athletic trainer for the men’s lacrosse program, which happens to be a high-risk level sport for COVID-19 exposure. His responsibilities have increased tremendously since previous seasons.
“I have had to enforce social distancing on the sidelines during team practices and monitoring water stations to ensure that the student-athletes are not congregating since they are not wearing masks during practice,” said Boutote. “We have also incorporated contactless water nozzles in every single water cooler and have spaced out the water stations at four separate areas on the sideline which are designed to prevent any large gatherings during water breaks.”
New responsibilities added onto athletic trainers this semester are heading baseline COVID-19 testing for all student-athletes, coaches, and staff involved in athletics. Running surveillance testing of 25% of intermediate and high-risk sports rosters. They must also develop weekly testing schedules and report all positive cases to the Department of Health. If there are positive cases, athletic trainers must track positive cases and those who come in close contact with those cases.
Alejandro Arenas, an assistant athletic trainer, has now been given a new title of COVID-19 testing coordinator with the new protocols. Arenas, along with other trainers, tested over 550 athletes for baseline COVID-19 testing. Around 30-50 athletes are tested daily in the athletic training room.
“Testing Procedure involves a rapid test where the person collects swab samples from their nostril walls, then antigen solution is placed in the test kit, the swab is then inserted and swirled to assure solution has been observed,” said Arenas. “We then wait 15 minutes and interpret the results.”
Heather VanOpdorp, an assistant athletic trainer, said COVID-19 testing is all based on the CDC and the NCAA guidelines.
“The NCAA mandates what risk each sport is, and the higher risk the sport, the more they will get tested,” said VanOpdorp.
Athletic trainers must also enforce a strict return-to-play protocol for their athletes. Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate for ten days, and close contacts (within 6 feet for a period of 15 minutes or longer) must quarantine for up to 14 days.
“If any student-athlete that tests positive for COVID-19 experiences severe symptoms as a result of the virus, they must follow a graduated return-to-play protocol that may include a full blood work panel and a thorough cardiology workup prior to any physical activity,” said Boutote.
Besides athletic trainers having to adapt to new COVID-19 guidelines, their work volume is increased even more as every athletic team is technically in season this semester due to the pandemic. This means three seasons of athletics are all now being played in the spring.
“This has for sure increased the volume of work we do on a regular basis, which to start is a lot,” said Arenas. “The added responsibilities of COVID-19 plus having all sports participation has definitely added stress and at times difficult to the job.”
Although the athletic training room saw an influx in work volume, Boutote commends himself and his colleagues on how well the sports medicine staff adapted.
“For a great period of time, we were understaffed and overwhelmed by all of the situations that we have been faced with, and yet we faced every challenge head-on,” said Boutote.
Athletic staff and administration have been putting in countless hours of work, all to help UT athletes compete this season.
“My main advice to the student-athletes this year during this time would be to make smart decisions on and off the field. Wear a mask and practice social distancing as much as possible,” said Boutote. “We have all worked tirelessly this year to take every necessary precaution to ensure that you all can have a competitive season, and we do not want you to lose another chance at competing at NCAAs this year like we did last spring due to the pandemic.”
Not just athletes have put in extra work, but also the entire athletic department staff.
“The amount of logistics, meetings, and everything that has been done to get our athletes to practice and compete for shows the care we have for the student-athletes,” said Arenas.
The sports medicine staff at UT have had to learn new skills and adapt new responsibilities in their everyday lives, all for athletes to play the sport that is such a big part of their lives. The athletic team’s coaches and administration staff have also guided help every step of the way.
“We have been asked to go above and beyond under the circumstances and perform duties that most of us had little to no experience performing before this year, on top of our typical responsibilities as medical professionals in sport,” said Boutote.
There has been much discussion about athletic teams finally having a competition season at UT this coming semester. However, even the potential of a season would not be possible without the athletic administration, coaches, staff, and most importantly, the athletic trainers.