The AAP now says that children should wear masks while participating in most sports. In updated recommendations, the AAP encouraged athletes to wear cloth face coverings “at all times for group training, competition, and on the sidelines.”
Previously, the AAP recommended that face coverings be worn only on the sidelines, but it updated the guidance based on evidence that masks can decrease transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
“Research shows that we can significantly lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission with cloth masks that completely cover the nose and mouth and that are fitted on the sides with no gaps,” Susannah M. Briskin, MD, FAAP, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Solon, Ohio, said in an AAP press release announcing the change.
“Proper and consistent use of a cloth face mask is especially important right now as so many athletes move indoors for sports during the colder months,” Briskin said. “While regular exercise is important for our kids’ mental and physical well-being, we must do everything we can to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread.”
About 35 million to 40 million children and teens aged between 6 and 18 years participate in some form of athletics, the AAP said. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected youth sports, with programs either being canceled or altered as infection rates continue to increase throughout the fall season.
The AAP noted that indoor sports place children at a greater risk for transmission, and strongly encouraged that they wear masks while participating in them.
SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted on surfaces, so sports with shared equipment, facilities and common surfaces pose additional risks, the AAP said.
The AAP said face coverings should not be worn during certain sports such as competitive cheerleading or gymnastics because they could possibly get caught on an object and become a choking hazard or impair vision. In sports such as wrestling, swimming and diving, a face covering is not recommended because they could potentially become choking hazards, as well.
Outdoor sports, like golf or singles tennis, present a lower risk for transmission, so a face covering may not be necessary at all times, the AAP said.
Other AAP recommendations included:
- Practice groups should be kept at smaller sizes that do not mix youth athletes in order to help limit teamwide outbreaks.
- Young athletes with any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend any practices or competitions. The athlete should consult their physician and notify their coach, athletic trainer and school administrator of the signs and/or symptoms.
- Individuals should always wear a cloth face covering between practice drills, on the sidelines, arriving at and departing from the playing facility, in a locker room and during shared transportation to and from an event.
- Cloth facial coverings should cover the athletes’ face well and ensure that they cover the nose and mouth at all times. When removed for a water break, the athlete should remain 6 feet away from other individuals. If the mask becomes soaked with sweat, immediately change it.
- Coaches, officials, spectators and volunteers should also ensure they are practicing mask use as well. Coaches and school officials should monitor proper mask use and encourage all athletes to have a properly worn mask in place.