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Why players and children at Cúl Camps should feel safe as full-contact GAA returns

‘There is no such thing as zero risk in anything, but we do but we know there is lower risk by age and people who are otherwise healthy.’

Referee Kieran Kelly throws the sliotar in for the first game back since the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions between Lusmagh and Meelick-Eyrecourt.
Referee Kieran Kelly throws the sliotar in for the first game back since the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions between Lusmagh and Meelick-Eyrecourt.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

GAA PLAYERS SHOULD feel safe returning to play games and the risk of contracting Covid-19 on the field is extremely low according to infectious diseases expert Professor Mary Horgan.

Speaking on the GPA’s Players’ Voice podcast, Prof Horgan also explained why the GAA’s Cúl Camps were safe to resume and parents should have no worries sending their children back to play sport.  

Full contact training is permitted from today and club championships will kick into gear next month. 

Prof Horgan, who is is the President of the Royal College of Physicians and a Consultant Physician in Infectious Diseases at Cork University Hospital, stressed that while games are returning, the onus is still on players to act responsibly over the weeks ahead.

“What I would say is that self-responsibility has a huge impact on the ability of the games to continue,” she said. “It needs to be taken seriously first and foremost.

“The paperwork may seem onerous but people need to understand it is serious and if we want to stay where we are at now you have to understand what the symptoms are, what you can do to stop it being spread, and what you can do to protect yourself.

“And when you do that individually it has a positive knock-on effect on your team-mates and spectators,” continued the Kerry native.

“I’m sure there are parents who might say my child might not understand a lot of that. But that eLearning (module) that was done and is really good and listening to the public health messages and be sure that the GAA advisory committee have put in as many checks and balances in place that we can return to play safely.

“I know it sounds like saying the same old thing but that hand hygiene, the cough etiquette, do not come to play if you have any of the symptoms, particularly fever and cough, stay at home, call your doctor and get tested. 

“For children and adults, the importance of sport for physical and mental well being cannot be overstated. While this infection has changed the way we live we can’t let it control us either so that is why it is important to get back and try and resume normal activity of which sport is a big component.”

She explained there’s a “20 fold lower risk of getting Covid” during outdoor activities compared to indoors. 

“It’s a combination of don’t come when you have symptoms, you are playing outdoors which has lower risk, you are moving around the field, you are a younger age group, you are fitter and most don’t have the risk factors which result in the worst outcomes who unfortunately were either hospitalised or passed on.” 

While professional sports are regularly testing players since they’ve returned, Prof Horgan says that’s not required for GAA players.

“When it comes to testing, it’s really good with coronavirus if you have symptoms,” she stated. “If you’re using it as a screening test your chances of getting a positive test in the absence of symptoms is very, very low.

“And it’s only one point in time. I could be exposed today, I get swabbed and it could be negative. In seven days’ time, I’d need to be swabbed again and I may or may not be positive at that time.

“So the PCR testing is not used as a screening tool, it’s to diagnose the infection and to test those people who’ve been in contact with people who are positive. The testing that’s been done recently in Australia with that Tyrone man (Conor McKenna), there were some questions was that even a false positive.

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“You know the disruption that can cause and did cause in the AFL. Everything got stopped and did it need to stop, maybe not, if it was a false positive. That’s the PCR testing.

“The other is the antibody test – which is looking to see if you have antibodies as evidence that you’ve had an infection in the past. The big challenge there is that we don’t know for certain if you have antibodies how long they last and will they really protect you.

“They probably will, but I don’t see any benefit at this point in time of routinely screening as they have done in golf and rugby. I don’t think it’s cost-effective and it may not be the right answer. However if somebody in a team has a cough or fever, of course they should get tested and follow it up.”

Despite some concerns, she explained there is “not particularly” a higher risk of county players contracting the virus when they’re playing and training in the winter.

“They’ll be at risk like anybody else. What I would suggest and what I’m a big advocate of is the influenza vaccine. Particularly this coming season it would be very advisable for people, and that obviously includes healthy young players, to get vaccinated.”

On the issue of children returning to Cúl Camps, Prof Horgan said: “A lot of information is coming through from the science community on the impact of Covid-19 on children and adolescents.

“Numerous studies now show their risk of either getting the infection or even if on the occasion they do get it, they do not seem to have any bad impact. When I was talking to my pediatric infectious disease colleagues, they just don’t see it.

“They don’t see it coming into hospitals, there is a syndrome you can get but it’s really, really uncommon and it’s absolutely treatable.

“You can’t keep social distancing kids, it’s just not feasible. The bad impact of Covid on that group is so, so low.

“So they’re in a very low-risk group for a bad effect from Covid-19. I certainly think, based on the knowledge we have at this time, think that the benefits of going back to sports for children without social distancing far outweigh the risks and all my colleagues in paediatrics within the college of physicians would absolutely support that.

“Kids have been particularly good at doing the hand washing and the cough etiquette. It’s about reiterating simple messages – wash your hands and if you’re sick do not come to training.

“Put it this way, would I have any problem sending my kids back to sport? Absolutely not. There is no such thing as zero risk, but there is low risk and the low risk is in younger people who have no other major underlying health conditions. That’s what we know as of now.

She concluded, “This will be on ongoing monitoring situation. I think that should lead to reassurance with players and spectators. We aren’t going to say, ‘We’ve done the job and off we go.’ This is a fluid situation and things may change one way or the other, as we’ve seen already.”


Source: The Players Voice/SoundCloud

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Kevin O'Brien

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