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NMAA survey findings: Minimal COVID for prep athletes

Are the safety measures created for high school athletes this year by the New Mexico Activities Association working?

The NMAA set out to gain some feedback with a recent statewide survey of its member schools. The results, while unscientific, certainly proved enlightening for the state’s governing body for prep sports.

“The idea,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said, “was to see how many kids were participating, and within that, how many had COVID-19.”

Just over 75 percent – 120 – of the NMAA’s 158 member schools responded to the three-question survey, Marquez said. The survey was conducted when New Mexico was still in a 9:1 pod ratio of coaches to athletes, not the 4:1 ratio that currently exists.

Sally Marquez, NMAA executive director

The first of the three questions was, how many athletes have participated in pod workouts?

The total was 12,429 athletes, Marquez said.

The second question posed was, how many of these athletes have tested positive for COVID-19?

According to Marquez, the survey revealed that 44 athletes from 20 schools tested positive for the coronavirus, which is responsible for shutting down high school competitions since the middle of March.

The 44 out of 12,429 computes to .35%.

It is not known how many of those 44 athletes are from the metro area, nor is it known if any of these cases resulted in a serious health crisis for the individual athlete.

The third question was, how many times was there a spread of COVID-19 within a pod? From the responses, Marquez said there were three cases at two schools.

It was unknown at what rate high school athletes contracted the coronavirus, and the survey did not address that with the schools. Nor did it attempt to compare rates of athletes contracting the virus vs. the general student population.

The NMAA put in safety measures for member schools in the offseason in order to allow athletes and coaches to have out-of-season workouts, which largely consist of conditioning and various individual drills that involve minimal use of equipment.

“We were trying to see if our guidelines were effective,” Marquez said. “At this time, it was just some information we wanted.”

The ongoing pandemic claimed all of the spring high school sports in New Mexico. Two contact sports, football and soccer, had their entire fall seasons postponed to the spring semester.

Two other contact sports, basketball and wrestling, which both usually begin in the final few weeks of the calendar year, also are being shifted to 2021.

The NMAA wanted to go ahead with three non-contact sports – volleyball, cross country and golf – this fall, with all athletes, coaches and officials in masks. That particular mandate set New Mexico apart from most every other state.

However, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently amended the state’s health order, thus prohibiting those three sports from being held for now. They, too, were shifted to next year, and the NMAA’s sports calendar for 2021 now starts in early January and runs through late June.

Schools can continue with workouts, and all athletes and coaches must be in masks.

The results of the NMAA survey, along with a recent study from the University of Wisconsin that suggested high school sports participation does not increase the risk of getting the disease, were forwarded to Lujan Grisham’s office.

“Because of the unscientific nature of the survey and because of the lack of details (the NMAA) provided about how it was conducted, the state epidemiologists consulted by the governor’s office were not able to draw any meaningful conclusions about the results the NMAA claimed to have compiled,” said Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett. “In short, without defining the populations and calculations made or not made by the NMAA, we are unable to draw any conclusions about the usefulness of their survey.”

The Wisconsin survey also included collaboration from the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. That study included responses from 207 Wisconsin high schools and over 30,000 athletes.

It is less than 10 weeks before the next prep sports, basketball and swimming/diving, are scheduled to begin on Jan. 4.

But without any change to the public health order from Santa Fe between now and Christmas – and New Mexico’s COVID numbers have been dramatically on the rise in the last couple of weeks, according to state officials – those two sports certainly are in jeopardy of not starting early next year.

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