Should athletes wear masks when playing?

In the United States, the question of when to wear a face mask and which face mask to use in each situation has been a frequent one throughout the year. Therefore, a question that is inevitable among those who play sports or are passionate followers of any sport is: do athletes have to wear masks while they play? Let’s analyze the answer to this question.

COVID-19 and face masks

This disease is a respiratory infectious illness caused by a new type of virus called the SARS-CoV-2. It was discovered at the end of 2019, and has since been affecting almost every country in the world, with countless deaths and a series of other problems associated with the pandemic.

COVID-19 can range from an asymptomatic infection in some people, mainly kids and younger people, to very mild cases that resemble the flu, to an extremely severe and potentially deadly one, which mainly happens on older people or those with pre-existing conditions considered a risk factor. In them, the lungs can get so severely injured they might need a ventilator to breathe properly.

The illness is transmitted from one person to the other through the release of respiratory droplets that contain viral particles. The infection occurs when a healthy individual inhales these particles and the virus starts colonizing their airways. This is why the use of face coverings is important to prevent the spread of the disease.

Face masks are very varied, but it’s important to know which one is suitable for each situation. For example, right now the best face mask for virus protection is the N95 mask, also called the N95 respirator. However, these masks offer such great antiviral properties that they’re crucial supplies in the healthcare field, and not everyone should use them as they are scarce.

N95 masks can also filter out dust and smoke, and have uses in other work fields, and some of their most used models are the 3M N95 masks in models like the 3M 8511, 3M 8210, and 3M 1860. They’re often confused with KN95 masks, which offer the same filtering properties, but are regulated in China

Other important supplies for protection in a healthcare setting includes surgical masks and face shields, and they have also been difficult to find. For the general public in low-risk situations, cloth masks are the recommended choice. They mainly prevent the respiratory droplets from being released into the environment, so they protect those around the wearer in case they are unknowingly spreading the virus.

Should athletes wear masks when playing?

COVID-19 doesn’t disappear on the playing field, and the risk of getting infected and infecting others is still present. Unless the athletes perform tests on themselves regularly and always make sure they’re not infected, the most responsible thing to do is to wear face masks when playing.

Exercise in groups with other people represents an activity in which infection is possible, especially because this involves a lot of heavy breathing and, in most cases, a lot of physical contact with no space for social distancing. But, there are times when the use of a face mask is necessary while other times it won’t be.

In general, the rules for a face mask are the same as in regular everyday life. This means wearing a face covering when being in a public situation with people who you don’t live with. A face mask should be worn on the following situations:

  • During team chats
  • In group trainings and during competitions
  • When sharing transportation, like bus trips to and from competitions
  • While waiting on the sideline bench
  • In the gym, locker room, and pool.

It’s particularly important to wear a face covering during prolonged and close contact with other people, when a 6 feet distance is not possible to be kept with other people, and during practices or events that are situated in an indoor environment.

On the other hand, the situations in which a face-covering isn’t necessary include:

  • Any water sports, since breathing with a wet face mask can be difficult. For this same reason, as soon as a face mask is soaked in sweat it should be changed.
  • Sports where the face mask can represent a choking hazard, or an injury risk because of the possibility of it covering the eyes or being caught on equipment. These sports include tumbling, gymnastics, wrestling, and cheer stunts.

The preferred form of face-covering for the general public, including athletes, are reusable cloth ones. These have been found to be well tolerated during exercise for the majority of people. But, they can make the athlete feel uncomfortable at first, and they just have to get used to it for some time. Unless the face mask makes it difficult for the athlete to breathe, the mask won’t interfere with their performance.

Face coverings need to be kept clean, just like any other sports equipment used. The cloth masks can be cleaned with hot water and this should be done every day. They shouldn’t be reused until they have been correctly sanitized. This ensures no contamination is happening, keeping not only the athlete safe, but the teammates as well.

For more information about what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has to say about playing sport during the pandemic, you can go to this link.

Remember that COVID-19 doesn’t stop existing during the holidays or when playing a sport, and the same rules and recommendations we’ve been hearing all year still apply in these situations. Make sure to keep wearing a face mask until the situation is under control. Reusable cloth masks can be found for sale and they’re available to buy in bulk and wholesale.

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