So many people in Arkansas are wishing for a normal return to school and sports this fall, but it won’t come without teamwork.
This weekend, NC State had to forfeit their game in the Men’s Baseball College World Series after players tested positive for COVID-19. Coaches lead, and the NC State coach’s failure to lead on fighting the pandemic directly resulted in a major loss for his team. The loss would have been avoided with victory vaccines.
In fall 2021, losses like these will likely be replicated across Arkansas junior high, high school, college, and university sports and other team activities like dance, cheer, band and drama. Arkansas is one of the least vaccinated states in the country, which means we are setting our students up to lose. The only way to prevent this is to make sure student athletes get vaccinated as soon as possible.
By their very nature, sports are communal and put students in close proximity. Student athletes attend classes together, eat together, shower together and compete together unmasked. They also interact with hundreds of other unmasked athletes from other schools, creating vectors for new variants. Teams that don’t want to have to forfeit games can make it happen by getting players, coaches, and staff vaccinated.
How can Arkansas sports teams avoid the fate of NC State? Here is the game plan:
1. Get yourself and your family vaccinated.
School starts in fewer than 50 days. Get vaccinated now will help reduce hospitalizations, deaths, variants and transmission among athletes and everyone else, too.
2. Wear a mask indoors, even if you are vaccinated.
Dr. Cam Patterson with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Dr. Jennifer Dillaha with the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) both emphasized mask wearing this week, even for vaccinated folks, and the World Health Organization agrees. This is brand new guidance based on increasing hospitalizations of younger folks AND breakthrough infections—this is when a vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19. Wearing masks will protect you and your family from variants, increasing the chances of your team making it to that championship game.
3. Get tested if you have symptoms, even if you are vaccinated.
The testing numbers in Arkansas are low while our positivity and hospitalizations are higher than expected. Getting tested not only stops you from being a vector and spreading the infection. For student athletes it helps identify when the infection began and help trace the infection to prevent further spread. The earlier you test, the earlier you get out of quarantine to play another match.
4. Talk about vaccinations.
Students aged 12 to 17 qualify for free vaccines. The higher the percentage of vaccinations in your school, the better protected your team will be. It is an edge over the competition. Conway High School hosted a student vaccination clinic in the spring and teammates could go together. Have one-on-one conversations with folks in your community about these events.
Also, when you see a message about vaccine benefits or a local clinic on social media, please share it. The City of Conway just shared important vaccine facts from Conway Regional Medical Center on Facebook. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. shared vaccine encouragement on Twitter. Please boost these signals and have important conversations!
There is a financial victory to win together across Arkansas. College game days create revenue across the state for folks attending the game in person and fans gathering to watch the away games. In my rural hometown, Friday night lights were an excuse to dine out before the game, grab something at the store, or stop for ice cream afterward. These businesses and workers have a financial interest in vaccinating athletes and ending the pandemic.
As the daughter of a high school football coach, I know coaches receive many angry phone calls. Let me tell you that taking a position on a lifesaving vaccine should not be cause for angry calls.
Let me tell you something else: coaches, parents, teams and communities enjoy winning more than losing. Get your victory vaccine for the win.
Julee Jaeger is a scientist, mom and community organizer living in Pickles Gap, Arkansas. (she/her/y’all).