JAAA medical chief says strict adherence to COVID protocols key to athletics making full return

JAAA medical chief says strict adherence to COVID protocols key to athletics making full return

Observer writer

Sunday, January 03, 2021

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DR Carl Bruce, chairman of the Medical and Anti-doping Committee of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA), has warned that no favours can be given or corners cut if the sport of track and field is to resume under COVID-19 protocols after the Christmas break.

At last week's calendar conference, which was held virtually, Dr Bruce — a consultant neurosurgeon and medical chief of staff at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) — said with herd immunity still a far way off, if at all possible, as well as a vaccine that would provide widespread immunisation of the entire population, compliance and monitoring of the protocols will be very important.

“I would dare say to keep athletics open and alive — and I think if we are not careful as a body, as a committee and a group of individuals right across the country we stand the risk of being shut down, not just by the authorities but by ourselves,” he said, “we should avoid the Jamaican culture of giving a 'bly',” Bruce added.

Track and field is one of the few sporting disciplines that has been given the go-ahead by the Government since the easing of the COVID-19 protocols last year after a lockdown, and there have been several meets held — seven smaller meets by the MVP Track Club between July and September and the Tyser Mills development meet that was held at Calabar High in December.

Pending approval from the Government, depending on the COVID-19 rates after the festive season, the track and field season is expected to get into full stride with a number of meets. But Dr Bruce is “strongly suggesting” the appointment of compliance personnel for both the meets and for teams.

“When meets start, I will strongly suggest that you have a medical doctor or public health specialist who is assigned to do COVID-19 prevention and to do risk assessment,” Dr Bruce said, “and this person will also be responsible for the mitigation of the spread of the virus.

“Compliance must be everybody's business, but we don't want to give anyone a bly. We need to have a chief compliance officer and the team should be designated and empowered to do whatever it takes to keep the meet safely,” he insisted.

“Teams as well should have a COVID-compliance person as well and they must insist on mask-wearing, temperature check[s] and sanitising, and coaches should insist on social distances etc. Teams should not mix but stay in your own tents,” Bruce added.

The job of the compliance officer, Bruce said “starts long before the competition and warm-up”.

“It [compliance] starts at the car park, and you want to avoid overcrowding at entrances...tents can be set up before the day if possible,” he stressed.

“Compliance and monitoring are important and if we don't have that we will be shut down, Importantly, I think we must not assume that all of our meets will be approved. We will have challenges and I know the president and the executive will work hard with Government to try and ensure that as many meets as we possibly can are approved,” Bruce went on.

The pandemic, he said, was not going away anytime soon and so we have to live with it and find ways to ensure that the sport not only continues but thrives, and athletes won't have the luxury of time to wait until things get better.

“It's going to take a while for us to get to the end [of the COVID-19 pandemic] and that is why I said this is the beginning of the end. As fast as the world tries to vaccinate everyone, you can see that if you take the smaller countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) Covax group that it probably it will be the end of 2021 before smaller countries and developing island states will get the front line staff and those at risk vaccinated,” Bruce pointed out.

It will be up to the authorities, he said, to manage the situation as best as they can.

“So it, therefore, means that while you will be hearing about the vaccine, we still have to be progressing and performing in a manner whereby we still have to manage COVID, because the majority of the population has not been vaccinated and to get population immunity I want you to think about 60 per cent-70 per cent of the population being vaccinated.

“In many of the country that has had widespread COVID you will see that less than 10 per cent of the population has immunity and, therefore, you are going to have to rely on the vaccine to get immunity — so the concept of herd immunity will not work.

“It therefore means we will have to work with our main stakeholders in order to get track and field to the point to where we can perform, we can host a meet, and we can entertain the public as we know how and we have been used to in the past,” Bruce said.

He said the track and field community will have to adapt to the very trying circumstances affecting every one.

“These are difficult and challenging times for us, not only as the JAAA but also individually, our families and our friends. And these changes have been forced on us and human beings don't usually like changes all the time, but these are way beyond our control.

“The athletics committee has felt the enormous impact of COVID-19 and the JAAA calendar conference will attempt to chart a way forward through the upcoming athletics season. Experts will tackle the challenging task of keeping athletics alive by abiding by the safety protocols to remain COVID-19-free,” Bruce noted.

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