About a third of college athletic trainers said their athletes were fully following COVID-19 safety protocols, and less than half reported that coaches and staff were in full compliance, according to a survey conducted by the National Athletic Trainers' Association.
The survey of about 1,200 athletic trainers across college divisions showed that 59% of respondents said athletes were "somewhat" following COVID-19 protocols, and 46% said coaches and staff were somewhat following safety measures.
NATA polled athletic trainers to gauge how well they felt their institutions, coaches and athletes were responding to COVID-19. Athletic trainers, who in most states are required to be licensed medical providers, often are responsible for implementing athletic department safety protocols and monitoring athletes for symptoms and recovery. The survey ran from July 24 to Aug. 5 and reflected responses from 27% of NATA's collegiate membership that received the questions. NATA president Tory Lindley said he was concerned that COVID-related protocols are not being followed more closely.
"[Athletic trainers] and physicians continue to revise and adapt safety protocols as new best practices become available, yet it still comes down to a consistent, individual, human-by-human choice, to achieve success," Lindley wrote in an email. "It will also take every member of the team -- from players on the field to staff on the sidelines -- to understand that noncompliance is not only a threat to the season but to mitigating the spread of COVID-19."
As compared to all college athletic trainers who responded, the 538 Division I respondents reported slightly lower levels of full compliance with protocols among athletes -- 26% said athletes were fully following school and sport protocols. About 67% of Division I athletic trainers said athletes were "somewhat" following protocols.
Lindley said programs could audit how protocols are being followed, encourage players and staff to report violations and create a specific task force to oversee processes and compliance.
About 84% of athletic trainers overall (87% in Division I) responded that they felt their athletic programs were very or somewhat prepared to return to sport based on federal and industry COVID-19 guidelines. And athletic trainers responded that they had enough personal protective equipment (79%) and adequate materials for sanitation (87%), regardless of the division in which their athletes played.
Overall, 90% of respondents said they worked in an environment that was safe or somewhat safe, and 10% said they did not work in a safe environment.
Lindley said he was "beyond concerned that any collegiate athletic trainer does not feel safe" and said NATA would look further into that finding, which he called "absolutely unacceptable."
"This is not just a sports issue; it is a public health issue. Student-athletes and staff are a part of a larger community," Lindley wrote in the email. "When they leave practice or the athletic training clinic, they often interact with and engage with others outside the controlled environment. If their sports environment is deemed to be unsafe, they are not only putting themselves, their teammate, and their season at risk, but their community."