National Athletic Training Month rolled in as calendars flipped over to March. The theme for 2020 — "ATs impact health care through action" — took on an extra level of meaning as high school athletic trainers across Lancaster and Lebanon counties tackled their behind-the-scenes duties under unusual circumstances while pitching in to aid the front lines in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"I think you're going to see that," said Elco head athletic trainer Adam Zurick. "I know there are a lot of athletic trainers in the clinics and the hospital base who are being utilized in different ways."
Beyond his role as athletic trainer and assistant athletic director, Zurick has served as a volunteer EMT in Myerstown for the last 27 years.
"It's interesting to see the reaction," he said. "People are calling the ambulance less. ERs don't seem to be as busy right now around us, but I know that's different across the country."
Aside from taking inventory of personal protective equipment and reviewing safety guidelines, Zurick cleaned out his recreational vehicle in case he would need to self-quarantine from his family. He's also maintained his day-to-day duties as an athletic trainer, checking in with student-athletes and coaches via Elco's web-based communication system, email and social media. The duties include working with athletes to treat injuries and prescribe rehabilitation programs. When Gov. Tom Wolf initially ordered schools to close March 13 in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, spring sports teams were less than two weeks into practices.
"Spring can be quieter," said Penn Manor head athletic trainer Kelly St. John, "but there are still contact sports that have more injuries than people realize."
With schools closed until at least April 6, St. John has also volunteered to help Penn Manor's efforts to provide meals to students, riding a bus to delivery points at bus stops.
"It has been amazing to see all of the staff group together to deliver over a thousand meals to students," she said. "The students are so thankful and have a huge smile on their face when they see the bus coming up the street. It may be something small but it can mean the world to a student to get a meal from a teacher they have."
Aside from communicating with athletes, St. John has used the time to keep up with Penn Manor's construction projects.
"I have two training rooms that will be affected by the construction in the future," she said. "We have to come up with alternative areas for supplies and treatment areas."
With school buildings closed and social distancing measures in place, athletic trainers have had to rely on electronic communication to work with athletes.
"It's basically taking the information they give me in writing," Zurick said, "and trying to give them my best guess as to what they're describing to me and trying to guide them through their issues they may be having that way. It's really tough to not be able to put your hands on someone and actually do an evaluation."
Zurick has passed along fitness tips and workout regimens through social media to help athletes stay in shape. Ephrata athletic trainer Cindy Jenkins put together videos to keep athletes active, focusing on cardio, strength and flexibility exercises that do not require equipment and utilize body weight.
Athletic trainers also take help students manage their mental and emotional health, maintaining their day-to-day talks with the status of their seasons up in the air.
"They reach out to you," Zurick said. "There are kids who will interact with me that maybe don't want to reach out to a guidance counselor."
The lines of communication have remained open between athletic trainers as well. Their colleagues have seen high school seasons in other states and college campaigns come to an end. Their peers with professional teams and the performing arts have put their day-to-day activities on hold. In the meantime, they've sought ways to help elsewhere as health care professionals recognized by the American Medical Association. Programs such as the Go4Ellis app have helped connect per diem athletic trainers with health care systems.
"Normally, they help you find substitute athletic trainers," Zurick said. "They take requests from organizations that need an athletic trainer to cover an event. Now they're getting out into the hospital systems and providing whatever assistance they can in that venue, too."