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Create safe environments to keep kids moving, more important now than ever

Originally posted in The Seattle Times

Youth athletes were forced to the sidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A path back to normalcy is becoming clearer, but we’re not there yet. That’s why now, more than ever, we must do our part to ensure kids have ample opportunity to play sports and be active.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared fully vaccinated people can resume activities they did before the pandemic, and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, whose COVID-19 Sporting Activities Guidance has been helping communities across the state resume and retain youth sports, announced the goal of a full state reopening by June 30.

These developments showcase the efficacy of state and federal guidance and the willingness from parents, coaches and local community leaders to follow them so youth sports and overall normalcy can return in Washington.

That said, we can’t get complacent.

As of now, outdoor and indoor sports no longer require limiting the number of attendees who’ve been vaccinated. We must do the following so youth sports can stay safe as they return:

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Monitor vaccine eligibility for children and adolescents.
  • Follow masking guidelines per state, athletic or activity associations and league rules.
  • Limit sharing sports equipment and, if possible, have players bring their own gear and snacks.
  • Talk to your coach or league’s leaders about how the recent announcements will impact safety protocols at practices and games.
  • Continue monitoring and following local, regional and national guidelines.
  • Continue practicing good hygiene, including washing your hands frequently and covering sneezes and coughs.

Vaccine distribution is progressing nationally, but equitable vaccine distribution, particularly in underserved communities, is still an issue and important so we can further slow the spread of COVID-19. UW Medicine’s community outreach strategies and mobile vaccination efforts aim to raise awareness for the safety and importance of the vaccine and make it more accessible, particularly in communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Even with local and national vaccination efforts, youth younger than 12 years old are not yet eligible. Those who are eligible need to do everything they can to create safe environments that keep kids moving.

And why is it so important that we focus on physical activity and sports for kids right now, when we are facing so many other challenges? Because the pandemic has made everyone, kids and adults, less active than ever before.

Before the first case of COVID-19 was announced in the United States, 66% of kids in the U.S. were physically inactive every day. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily, but only 24% are meeting that recommendation. Healthy kids make healthy adults, and the benefits of physical activity and team sports can prepare them for healthier living. The more we can do to prevent barriers to activity for kids, the better off they’ll be.

At The Sports Institute at UW Medicine, where I’m a co-founder, we work to get everyone moving as safely as possible. Our sports safety work has focused on injury prevention and treatment, but like many organizations, the pandemic prompted a new dynamic to our approach. Safety now has a new connotation.

We all want what’s best for our children, and this pandemic has highlighted the importance of every decision we make. Its ever-evolving nature makes recommendations and best practices moving targets, but we do know vaccines and masks create a higher likelihood of youth sports returning and maintaining.

The stakes are high, and in this case they’re highest for our kids. For them, the worst activity is inactivity.

Stanley A. Herring is the senior medical adviser and co-founder of The Sports Institute at UW Medicine, co-medical director for Orthopedic Health and Sports Medicine for UW Medicine, and co-medical director of the UW Medicine Sports Concussion Program. Additionally, he serves as one of the team physicians for the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Mariners.