By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – As many middle and high school students are heading back to the classroom, some are also gearing up for another athletics season. Even with COVID-19 restrictions in place, there are still concerns of how to keep student athletes protected.

One of the more common questions asked — by parents and young athletes — is if it’s safe to wear masks while playing sports. That’s required for some youth sports, including high school basketball.

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Dr. Aubrey Armento, a pediatric sports medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado, says the short answer is yes.

“We have found that wearing a mask during exercise is safe,” she told Kelly Werthmann in an interview on CBSN Denver. “There may be some special circumstances in which somebody has an underlying health condition, a heart or lung problem potentially, and I would strongly recommend patients and families to reach out to their physician. Also, consider the risks of participating in sports without a mask because that lends itself to its own set of risks as well.”

(credit: CBS)

Most sports require contact or at least close proximity between players. That makes it difficult to maintain physical distancing. If the athletes are not required to wear a mask, Armento said there are ways to keep everyone safe.

“Some things athletes can consider is settings in which you can maintain physical distancing,” she explained. “So outside of the competition or game setting. More in a training situation and working on maintaining that social distancing when training. There can be sort of a small group protocol that can be put in place in which athletes work out in smaller pods, and the same athletes stay in the same groups with physical distancing. This is a way to minimize the number of exposures to the entire team, as well as potentially reduce the chance the entire team has to be quarantined if somebody who has an exposure ends up being present.”

Armento said it’s important to continue doing all the other things we’ve all been told for good hygiene – washing your hands, having hand sanitizer readily available, not sharing water bottles or food or other equipment. She also said it’s extremely important for the sports equipment to be wiped down and sanitized regularly, especially the items shared by athletes.

If a student athlete has contracted COVID-19 and may have lingering health issues, Armento advised they talk to their primary care physician before returning to sports and exercise.

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“We have learned there are some risks that may develop, particularly cardiac risks, usually in more moderate to severe COVID cases,” she explained. “But the general recommendation is if anybody had a COVID infection, especially if they were symptomatic, they should consult with their physician.”

As for her most important health advice for young athletes during the pandemic – be flexible and understanding.

“I understand that everybody wants to get back to sports and there’s a lot of benefits to exercise and being physically active,” she said. “This is a different time and there are different measures that need to be put into place in order to make it as safe as possible. We can’t completely reduce the risk of COVID transmission, but understanding there are new rules and regulations in place and the purpose of those is to try to keep athletes and those involved in sports safe. Have an open mindset and be flexible with the new policies.”

ADDITIONAL INFO:

Children’s Hospital Colorado Mask Information

American Academy of Pediatrics: Masks & Sports

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Kelly Werthmann