Return-to-Play Protocol Allows Athletes Who Have Had COVID Get Back To Sports Safely


A simple Google search can return many examples of Return-to-Play policies. This example is not from NFA.

Avery Fritzsche, NFA Red & White Reporter

As many student athletes have had Covid-19, there is a new protocol to ensure the health of the athletes.

The Return to Play (or RTP) Process is a seven-day series of exercises supervised by Norwich Free Academy Athletic Trainer, Kayla Donovan. This return-to-play process went into effect at the beginning of basketball season last year when developing myocarditis, the inflammation of the heart muscle, became a concern for athletes who have had COVID. 

Myocarditis can cause athletes that struggle with cardiovascular activities, like running, to suffer serious health concerns. “When the membranes around the heart are inflamed, which causes a strain on your body, doing activities that require more exertion can be challenging.” Says NFA Nurse Supervisor Amy Tavares. 

According to the Mayo Clinic of Medicine, myocarditis gets dangerous when the inflammation reduces the heart’s ability to pump and can cause rapid and irregular heart rhythms, also known as arrhythmias. In severe cases, myocarditis weakens the heart so much that the rest of the body doesn’t get enough blood, causing clots that can lead to a stroke or heart attack. As myocarditis has been linked to the coronavirus numerous times, NFA has taken an extra precaution with student athletes who have tested positive for COVID. 

To test an athlete’s endurance and cardiac health, activity is gradually increased over the course of seven days during the process. Some days may require 15 minutes of cardio, or an hour of a full body workout. 

“It is necessary to gradually increase the intensity to ensure no underlying cardiac conditions present themselves during the exercises,” Donovan says. 

These signs of cardiac conditions could include difficulty breathing, wheezing, or chest pain. Another concern is if an athlete’s heart rate stays high and their ability to recover after exercise is slow. “You don’t know how to measure something if you don’t have a baseline.” Tavares says. In order to track the athlete’s cardiac health, Donovan will take the athlete’s blood pressure and heart rate at the beginning of each session. 

A prime example of an athlete that has suffered the effects of COVID is Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox when he developed myocarditis after testing positive for COVID in 2020. His recovery took three months along with conditioning training. He felt significant fatigue and could not pitch without feeling his cardiac symptoms. Rodriguez was so unsure he was going to recover or even live, he thanked God that he survived COVID-19 and its after effects. Still, he missed the entire 2020 season due to this condition.

“This is not a thing that we can play around with. I was feeling really bad back in those days. Really, really bad. This is not something we can play around with.” Rodriguez said. 

Avery Segar, NFA Varsity Cheerleader, went through the RTP Process after testing positive for COVID. 

“The process can seem unnecessary, especially if you feel fine, but it’s better to play it safe in situations like these,” she says. “Although I did not particularly enjoy going through this process, I was still able to partially participate in cheer and was fully cleared of any heart conditions.” 

NFA takes pride in prioritizing the health and safety of their students. Regardless of how well an athlete performs in their sport, the importance of heart health dominates all other factors.