Athletic Trainer

An ECU athletic trainer attends an injured football player during a game.

COVID-19 has changed how East Carolina University’s athletic trainers do their jobs, and new guidelines as well as restrictions have been made to ensure the safety of everyone involved, whether be they players or medical staff.

Zac Womack, head athletic trainer at ECU, has continued to work with the pirates for 13 years and been involved with athletic training since 2001, when he worked with some minor league teams of the New York Yankees. From 2001-2007 Womack worked with the Gulf Coast Yankees, the Greensboro Bats, the Battle Creek Yankees, and the Trenton Thunder.

“We are more COVID(-19) managers now than athletic trainers,” Womack said. “It is the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning when your sickness form pops up, temperature form pops up for every staff member and every athlete. It is a lot of reminding people all day long how to social distance, wearing your mask and keeping your mask on.”

According to Womack, before COVID-19 the standard day for an athletic trainer at ECU began at 6 a.m. with set up to check-in on athletes who needed assistance before classes. After classes, then they would make sure the athletes were ready for practice or a game. Normally, the athletic trainers would work at least 12 hours a day.

Womack said certain aspects of how the athletic trainers do their jobs have changed because of COVID-19. Specifically he noted how their ability to treat and check on players has been restricted. He said the trainers have to be much more cognisant of sanitation and how many athletes can be in a room and checked up on at once.

“Right now, some of our athletic training rooms are of smaller size, some are larger but like with football you might have had 15 guys getting treated at the same time, four or five guys in the cold tub, three or four female athletes in the rehab pool, and now you can’t do that,” Womack said. “Now you have to limit it to one or two people per pool, they have to have their mask on and they can’t face each other.”

Womack said one of the few aspects of the job that hasn't been restricted is the number of athletic trainers that are allowed to travel for away games, despite travel in general being restricted for all college sports.

Since the move to online classes, Womack said he has noticed a drop in the number of positive cases. With less contact with students who aren’t their teammates their risk of exposure has gone down.

“A lot of these athletes have been cooped up in their house for three or four months, away from each other, so as soon as they get out here they want to hang around each other you know,” Womack said. “They are doing their best with social distancing but at the same time they are on the field they want to hang out, they want to keep up with their friends.”

ECU currently remains fully staffed with 13 athletic trainers for 18 sports with 400 student athletes, amidst COVID-19 much of the athletic training staff’s job now is to keep track of who has had it, and who may have been exposed to it. Womack said it has taken away from their actual athletic training job.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should quarantine themselves for at least 10 days regardless of the show of any symptoms. The NCAA has its own set of guidelines as well, which state that all individuals with high risk exposure must be quarantined for at least 14 days.

“Anybody that is in quarantine is quarantined for 14 days and we have to keep track of them, and then when an athlete comes back from isolation from testing positive they have a 10 day return-to-play activity where we build them up conditioning wise,” Womack said. “Instead of our actual athletic training job of treating an ankle sprain, or spending more time with a pitchers elbow that is tight or sore.”

Womack said COVID-19 has caused the athletic training staff to be less hands on as before. He said other than always having to wear a mask and gloves, they have to be much more aware of keeping players separated. Treatments and rehab have to be conducted outside so as not to be in an enclosed space in order to try and provide the same quality of care as before.

As football season continues and other sports are soon to begin, the athletic training staff will, as Womack said, continue to adapt.

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