Business as usual for school sports

As Ottawa begins its free, city-wide vaccination against H1N1 this week, high schools are taking few measures beyond hand-washing campaigns to prevent the spread of the virus.

Vidhant Pal, a member of the junior boys’ soccer team at Lisgar Collegiate, says he isn’t doing anything different.

“The bug has been going around the team,” he says. “We’ve all been sick. But I haven’t done anything different.”

Pal says the only change the team has made is to bump elbows instead of shaking hands at the end of a match. He says he isn’t worried about getting the virus because he has always gotten better before.

His teammate Brendan Fitzgibbons agrees. “I’ve never done anything because I never thought it would affect me.”

He says he doesn’t plan on getting the vaccine despite the push being made by Ottawa Public Health.

Earlier this month, the National Capital Secondary School Athletics Association (NCSSAA) considered implementing measures like wiping down basketballs and forbidding handshakes at high school sporting events, but Rick Mellor, athletics officer at NCSSAA, says they “just can’t go that route. “

He says precautions like wiping down basketballs in the middle of games are ineffective because more hands immediately touch the ball when it goes back into play.

Instead, he says the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is for kids that are sick to stay home from school and away from games.  

The NCSSAA would only consider cancelling sports if there was a huge epidemic in schools. In that event, Mellor says, they would get their directives from the school boards and from Ottawa Public Health before they would act.

The vaccine won’t be available for high school students and the rest of the general public until mid-November, says Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa’s public health officer.

But as reports are coming out that the virus is affecting mostly healthy youth, high school students need to be extra careful says Patty Allen, health educator for Carleton University’s health and counselling services.  

But for now, as Mellor says, it’s “basically sports as usual.”