Jets doctor says outdoor high school sports should be a go, with careful COVID precautions

Dr. Damion Martins, left, team physician for the New York Jets, speaks with Luke Margolis of Atlantic Health, Aug. 27, 2020. Screenshot by Tyler Barth
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By Tyler Barth

Outdoor high school sports are ready to go, as long as students carefully observe coronavirus precautions.

This was the message from Dr. Damion Martins, team physician for the New York Jets, during an online talk from Morristown Medical Center this week.

Careful means “a controlled environment, being socially responsible, wearing your mask, washing your hands, distancing,” Martins said. “You can still play contact sports and in fact have a lower prevalence than you would in the general community.”

According to Martins, there have been no major outbreaks in New Jersey among athletes since outdoor club sports resumed in June.

New Jersey’s positivity rate has stayed low for the past couple of weeks, hovering between 1 and 1.5 percent, compared to the national rate, which according to John Hopkins University sits at 5.9 percent. The figure refers to the percentage of COVID-19 tests that yield a “positive” finding of infection.

Martins was part of a New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association task force whose job was to determine the safest way to return to sports. The task force interviewed  a variety of sources, including student athletes, who, according to the task force report, are the least likely group to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19.

Instead, student athletes primarily have been suffering from depression and anxiety from isolation during the pandemic.

According to a survey of 30,000 student athletes released in last month by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, more than 40 percent of student athletes are feeling a lack of motivation, and at least one in 12 feel a sense of crippling anxiety or depression.

The University of Wisconsin estimates more than 70 percent of high school athletes feel a lack of motivation or anxiety, more than double what it was pre-COVID.

“There’s no better way to cure depression or anxiety than with exercise,” said Martins.

The doctor said the state the plan is for outdoor sports to resume in mid-September, to give students a chance to acclimate to returning to school, either in-person or virtually. Students will have to wear masks, wash their hands, and keep their distance unless it’s part of the game. Indoor sports will have to wait for early spring, as of right now.

Additionally, gyms will be reopening in New Jersey, effective Sept. 1, at quarter capacity.

Another concern about resuming sports is myocarditis. It’s inflammation of heart muscle that kills as many as five percent of healthy young adults. The interaction between myocarditis and the virus which causes COVID-19, called SARS COV-2, is unknown, and requires further research. However, the condition can be brought on by the flu and mononucleosis.

“If you’re a pro athlete and you bring (the coronavirus) into your training room, into your team, and you start taking guys out with this infection, you’re not gonna win that game, you’re not gonna win that season,” he warned.

Morristown High School sports will abide by the NJSIAA’s guidelines, posted in early July.

So what does Martins suggest athletes do?

  • Wash your hands
  • Wear a mask
  • Maintain social distance
  • No large social gatherings
  • Visit a physician if you aren’t feeling well
  • If you’re returning to exercise, start slow, it’s very easy to injure yourself when you haven’t exercised in awhile

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