Getting back to sports – Making it safer means making it different.

In light of the pandemic, orthopedic sports medicine coverage has essentially been parked for some time.  As positive case numbers decrease, regulations have relaxed, and all activities, as we know them, are attempting to roll out “new normal” operations that prioritize the health of participants and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Where it has been a substantial piece of my practice for 20 years, I have not covered any sporting event as a sports medicine team physician since December of 2019.  Returning to the stadium in my role serving the Rockford IceHogs for their home opener was exhilarating. The athletes are thrilled to return to competition. The energy was palpable, however so much has changed.

We physicians are tested for COVID-19 prior to each and every game with either a standard one day turn around test or a rapid test depending on circumstances. We have contingency plans for game coverage in place. If a physician tests positive then another can cover in their place.  Once our negative status is verified, we log into an ARMS app (Athlete Records Management System). This tool continuously monitors our health to protect the health of the athletes and colleagues around us.  Once cleared, the ARMS app grants us a temporary admission into the stadium.

Lanyards around your neck with your picture and credentials are a thing of the past.  Digital credentials, stored on our phones are used to limit exposure.

Space has become an essential priority. Equipment in the players’ work out areas have been reconfigured to allow for athletes to use them at a safe social distance from one another.  Locker rooms have been relocated to larger spaces in order to make more room.  Even the doctors are enjoying an unexpected upgrade in being assigned their own designated room/space in order to be accessible to meet medical needs but not “too close.”

The stadium feel is completely different.  The silence is eerie.  There are maybe 100 people in the whole building including players, and coaches.  You can actually hear the players communicate with each other.   I definitely view the game and all the team members differently.  Because our proximity is limited, the connection with the players is lessened, but the lack of crowd noise and the fewer people in the stadium actually improves the physician connection to the bench during live play.

Despite the quiet, the play is great.  It may be because the players are really hustling as if they really missed it or because I’m watching them live which is something I haven’t done in a very long time. Either way it was great to see them play!

Some things feel the same…. the interaction with the players is similar.   Hockey players are great to work with because they are motivated, driven, intelligent, and of course professional.

This pandemic has tragically altered the whole world.  There are many lessons we are learning that need to be gleaned in developing our “new normal.”  I witnessed a slice of that applied wisdom in the protocols employed around the AHL season opener hockey game, right here in Rockford, IL, last Saturday.    We can be smarter, more careful, and mindful about what we do and how we do it when around others.  We can use better planning to inform better practices.

The IceHogs and BMO organizations have done a super job with their start to the new season.  Congrats to them for all their hard work. The vibe is higher energy with the fans.  I know we will get there one day but hopefully we don’t forget the lessons along the way.

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