High School Athletes

While non-professional and non-collegiate indoor sports practices and competitions for youth and adults are on pause through January 2 and outdoor competitions or tournaments are limited to 25 spectators, kids have had to adjust their expectations regarding athletics.

But with a vaccine being rolled out, a return to sports is on the horizon and students and parents want to be prepared.

Dr. Matthew Martinez is director of Atlantic Health System Sports Cardiology at Morristown Medical Center and a nationally recognized expert in Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM).

HCM is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood. It often goes undiagnosed and is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.  Those with HCM are frequently asymptomatic.

As cardiologist for the New York Jets, Major League Soccer and the National Basketball Association’s Player’s Association, Martinez also translates his work to non-professional athletes including students.

Martinez says that while all people are at risk for COVID, the good news is that the complications and transmission rate seems to be lower in high school kids.

When sports do return, or return to a regular schedule, appropriate social distancing, testing and cleaning procedures are needed says Martinez.

“The safety and timing of returning to exercise, intense training and/or sport in those with COVID-19 or exposure to COVID is evolving and becoming clearer,” says Martinez.

Martinez says that the overall recommendation is that athletes with no or mild symptoms of COVID are at very low risk for cardiac complications, do not need extensive testing and can gradually proceed to full activity after an appropriate length of quarantine.

“We are not recommending routine cardiac imaging in this group. Simply put, we define mild symptoms as those ‘above the neck’ and include loss of taste, smell, upper respiratory infections symptoms with gastrointestinal symptoms as the only outlier. Most of the cases will fall into this category.”

Those with moderate or severe symptoms should be medically evaluated with consideration of cardiac specific testing after completing the rest period before returning to full activity, says Martinez. Moderate symptoms include fever or cardiorespiratory symptoms.

“I also suggest that individuals start slow and gradually return to their previous levels, while being mindful of any new cardiovascular symptoms,” says Martinez. “However, patients with pre-existing cardiac disease who are potentially at higher risk of complications with COVID-19 (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, left ventricular systolic dysfunction, atherosclerotic heart disease) may require additional testing and risk assessment prior to a return to regular exercise levels.”

In the meantime, Martinez suggests that student athletes stay healthy by washing their hands, wearing a mask and social distancing as much as possible. He also tells student athletes to keep moving, in whatever way they can.

“Small group exercise and small group competition will help you stay fit and maintain the competitive edge.”