As the coronavirus-challenged football season will soon begin at many levels, two local doctors question what it will look like at the end.

Or if the end will come at the times designated by revised schedules.

The greatest challenge between now and football’s finish line may also be the most obvious – finding ways to lessen the spread of the virus.

It’s a challenge that comes as case counts and percentage of positive test results have yet to stabilize in Mississippi and much of the country.

“The transmission is going to happen, and that’s the biggest thing that in my opinion will probably not allow us to get through this season … unless we have a drastic downturn in the surge we’re having,” said Dr. Erik Dukes, a family medicine physician with North Mississippi Health Services’ Booneville clinic.

Dukes has served as a volunteer team physician for Northeast Community College and Booneville High School since 2001.

As football resumes, so does in-school learning.

Though districts are approaching the school year in different ways – many with virtual options – lots of students will gather in classrooms.

School buildings aside, social gatherings remain the most problematic aspect of potential virus spread, Dukes said.

“Where we’re going to get into trouble athletically is when they go to parties, go out to eat or they’re at other folks’ houses or studying together. You can encourage that not to happen, but it’s going to happen.”

The football field, the most physical of all sports, is just one more place in which the virus could spread.

“If one lineman comes down with COVID it’s hard for me to see how the rest of the linemen and the linemen on the other side of the ball are not going to all come down with COVID,” said Dr. Phil Jones, who owns and operates Jones Family Medical Clinic in Tupelo. “Maybe plastic face shields will help some, but you can’t decontaminate both lines after every play.”

Testing availability has improved, and methods are evolving. The FDA in July approved a broader-based test for asymptomatic people, a move that could help schools and businesses identify COVID positives quicker.

Resources for testing are vastly different from the high school to college level.

“Also, there can be false negatives on the test,” Jones said. “That’s going to be another way for the virus to slip through and affect a team.”

The best way for teams to combat the virus is contract tracing, Dukes said.

After that, affected players will isolate and work toward a safe return.

College teams will have a plan to isolate players.

At the high school level players are more likely to isolate at home with family members.

“Kids are going to get this. They’re going to contract the virus and spread it around. The place to start, in my opinion, is masking. If schools can mitigate on the front end and isolate on the back end very quickly that’s going to be the best way to get through this,” Dukes said.

“We’ve got to come to some point of safe yet common-sense approach to get people back as quick as possible, or I don’t know that we’ll be able to finish seasons.”

Twitter: @parrishalford

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