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1 in 4 Parents Say Youth Sports Not Enforcing COVID Precautions

(Reuters Health) – Even though the majority of parents give youth sports leagues high marks for keeping them informed about COVID-19 safety protocols, more than one in four parents still think enforcement of these policies is inconsistent, a new U.S. poll suggests.

Researchers from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health examined data from a nationally representative random sample of 2,002 households surveyed between August 2020 and January 2021. The survey completion rate was 60%, and the analysis included responses from 1,630 parents with at least one child 6 to 18 years old in the household.

Overall, 23% of parents surveyed said their child participated in sports at school or through travel or community programs. When parents said kids did not participate, it was most often due to seasons being canceled during the pandemic (34%) or because parents didn’t think sports were safe during the pandemic (25%).

The majority of parents gave sports programs an “excellent” or “good” rating for providing clear information about pandemic safety precautions. However, 28% of parents gave sports programs a “fair” or “poor” grade for consistent enforcement of these precautions.

“The vast majority of parents reported that they received information about COVID-19 precautions and that the information was clear,” said Sarah Clark, Research Scientist in the Department of Pediatrics and Co-Director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“The issue is the inconsistency of enforcement of masks, social distancing both before/after and during games or practice,” Clark said by email. “It’s really hard for kids to remember to do these things that aren’t natural!”

Sports participation was slightly higher for older children 12 to 18 years (25%) than among younger children 6 to 11 years (21%), the poll found.

Most parents thought sports programs struck a good balance in setting pandemic safety protocols, with roughly equal minorities of parents finding the policies too strict (13%) or too lenient (14%).

The majority of parents also gave excellent or good ratings to their child’s school or sports league for clear communication, treating children fairly and listening to parent concerns about COVID-19.

Among parents whose child participated in one or more sports, 9 in 10 said they received information from the school or sports league about masks and social distancing guidelines for players and spectators.

Four out of five parents also received information about when players should sit out of practice or games after being exposed to the virus, and the same proportion also felt informed about when a child could return to play after a COVID-19 diagnosis.

However, only 59% of parents said communication about when players might need COVID-19 testing was clear, the study found.

“A big challenge is the belief that COVID isn’t serious in young people; and in the initial phases of the pandemic, the greatest risk was for seniors and people with underlying conditions,” Clark said.

This likely created a situation in which youth sports organizations followed state guidance on the number of days to wait until a person is no longer contagious, Clark added.

When asked what they would likely do if their own child had COVID-19 during a sports season, 40% of parents would wait the number of days specified by team or league guidelines, while half would have their child cleared to play by a doctor. Five percent would base the decision on when the child felt well enough to play.

More parents of older than younger children would wait the specified number of days (46% vs 33%), and fewer parents of teens would have their child cleared by a doctor (44% vs 57%).

Part of this may be due to wide variability in safety recommendations and approaches to youth sports during the pandemic, said Adam Kelly, a senior lecturer and course leader for sports coaching and physical education at Birmingham City University in the UK.

“The incidence and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has varied considerably around the world, as well as the governmental response to the crisis,” Kelly, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “Consequently, regional and national government policies may significantly shape the influence of COVID-19 on the youth sport context.”

The poll results suggest that clinicians need to do more outreach to parents of children who participate in sports, Clark said. This is especially important now that newer variants are circulating that may pose greater risks to youth, Clark said.

“Public health guidelines issued early in the pandemic may no longer be sufficient to prevent transmission during sports,” Clark said. “This has implications for safety protocols, for testing and contact tracing, for keeping exposed players away from practice and games, and for return to play.”

SOURCE: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, online April 13, 2021.

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