Since the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns last year, the the sports and leisure industry has been one of the hardest hit. And as we head towards a slow reopening, concerning variants (like the Delta variant) threaten the safe recovery of the industry. Despite vaccination efforts, some say herd immunity is unlikelyand we may have to learn to live with the virus.
In Canada, lockdowns have had negative impacts on physical activity levels, sedentary behavior and mental health. And unhealthy lifestyles are associated with severe COVID-19 complications and hospital admissions.
Sports and recreation facilities help promote healthy lifestyles. Throughout the pandemic, however, they have become difficult to secure operate due to high respiratory activity and the potential for airborne transmission of the virus. Therefore, many have been forced to close or operate under strict guidelines.
Learning to live with the virus must involve thinking about how to support health and well-being. And strategies must be developed to mitigate the risk of transmission in sports and recreational facilities.
Mitigating the spread of COVID-19
We have examined peer-reviewed articles to identify recommendations for those involved in designing, managing and working in sports and recreation facilities to help mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19 – our article is a preprint and has not yet been peer reviewed. We have ranked the recommendations according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Guidelines to deal with occupational hazards, in this case COVID-19.
According to the guidelines, the best protection is offered by eliminating or replacing the workplace hazard, implementing engineering controls, adjusting the way people work through administrative controls, and using protective equipment. individual as the last line of defence.
Our analysis resulted in recommendations that will help the sports and recreation industry mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Here is a summary of the recommendations.
Elimination/substitution of the hazard: mandatory vaccination policy
Given the proximity of people in sports and recreational facilities, this policy should be considered as important as sports equipment who protects people.
Engineering controls: modification of the built environment
Architects, engineers and facility managers should consider modifying the built environment. These facilities often have complex rooms of varying sizes that require improved ventilation and air handling systems.
Rooms and corridors should be redesigned to enable physical distancingand the the number of high-touch surfaces in facilities will likely need to be reduced through automation. To improve user hygiene, hand washing stations should be installed everywhereallowing users to use them before, after and during an activity.
Administrative Controls: Standard Operating Procedures
Facility operators should develop COVID-19 management plans and incorporate them into their standard operating proceduresand a medical screening will have to be carried out daily for anyone entering the facility.
The premises, surfaces and equipment must be cleaned more often, and communication plans will need to be developed to educate and encourage safe user behavior. The operation of catering services will need to be modifiedand items must be individually wrapped in disposable containers. Clinical waste bins must be available for potentially contaminated material such as used masks, and facilities must coordinate delivery times with their suppliers to minimize contact with facility staff.
Administrative Controls: Facility Capacity and Spacing
General the capacity of the facilities will have to be reduced to allow for physical distancing, and movement within a facility will need to be reconsidered to reduce travel distances and contacts.
Due to environmental humidity and airborne particles from sports and recreational facilities, lockers are primarily to be used as storage and placed where physical distancing can be maintained. Spectator areas will need to implement physical distancing and consider installing partitions between seats.
Administrative controls: Activities and equipment
Return to activity guidelines should be created for each activity and space with public health consultation. Staggering the scheduling of installations will help minimize unnecessary use of facilities and personal contacts, and will help with cleaning. Accommodations will need to be made for the people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Sharing personal items like water bottles or towels must not be allowed.
Administrative controls: staffing needs
The staffing needs of facilities and the organizations operating there will have to change. A COVID-19 supervisor should be appointed carry out regular health and safety assessments, and all staff must be trained on new COVID-19 standard operating procedures.
Staff who can perform their tasks from home should be encouraged to do so reduce the number of occupants in an establishment at any time. Facilities should work with community sport organizations and their staff (such as coaches) to develop return to activity guidelines.
Personal protective equipment: the last line of defense
Additional personal protective equipment should be available and all occupants should be required to wear a mask when not engaged in physical activity. Facility staff, coaches, trainers and other staff must receive and wear additional personal protective equipment appropriate to their role.
As we return to some degree of normality from the height of the pandemic, the sports and recreation industry will be essential in supporting our health and well-being. It is therefore crucial that we assess the environment of sports and recreational facilities and put in place measures that mitigate the risk of transmission so that we can all enjoy them again.