ORONO – The decisions on offering high school sports have a major impact on communities across the state, so we spoke with a UMaine virologist about the science behind sport guidelines.
A decision that’s been months in the making was delayed once again on Wednesday, as the Maine Principals’ Association works with multiple state agencies to align its protocols with state guidelines.
We spoke with Dr. Melissa Maginnis, an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Maine, and lead of the UMaine System Scientific Advisory Board, to better understand why the original protocols were rejected by the state.
“I did not think the guidelines were based on the most recent science, and I thought the guidelines didn’t necessarily reflect the safety practice that would be necessary for the high risk sports like football,” said Dr. Maginnis.
Sports that bring athletes within six feet of each other during competition are at the highest risk of spreading the virus. COVID-19 is most often spread by particles inside respiratory droplets that can travel up to six feet through the air. During exercise, the human body releases microdroplets, called aerosols, that can spread even farther than the respiratory droplets.
“It’s really important that we can physically distance when we’re exercising, and there have been some studies that when we are exercising we expel more of those potential particles,” said Dr. Maginnis.
The ability for each athlete to compete at least six feet away from each other is big reason why sports like golf ,and cross country, have been cleared for statewide competition through the state’s community sport guidelines. High-risk sports at spreading the coronavirus, like football, and volleyball, are not approved through the same guidelines, even though the MPA originally recommended both sports to compete in their proposal.
“I would hope they would directly consult an infectious disease expert or directly consult the department of health and human services, the Maine CDC…utilize every resource we have available so that we can ensure the safety of our students,” said Dr. Maginnis.
Beyond the symptoms of covid-19 during infection, new research states that the virus can have long term effects on an individual’s lungs and heart; causing conditions like myocarditis that can permanently damage an athletes endurance.
“Think about this as a marathon, not a sprint, we want to make sure these children are healthy and they can continue to engage in sports for a long period of time, not just for the upcoming season,” said Dr. Maginnis.
The MPA is actively collaborating with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Department of Education to restructure its return-to-competition protocols to mirror the state’s community sport guidelines.