Beach volleyball players should play in masks

Given the dearth of sports being broadcast, the AVP is drumming up excitement with a series of tournaments streamed to beach volleyball fans hungry for pro action. It’s not like the old tournaments: in acknowledgement of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are no spectators, and balls are cleaned in between rallies. Behind the scenes, players are being tested regularly as part of the eligibility to participate. But during the play itself, players behave as though nothing has changed: they freely slap hands, embrace, and are never seen in masks.

This should change.

Beyond the spectator oriented AVP tournaments, smaller social beach volleyball tournaments continue to be held in outbreak states such as Texas, Arizona and Florida, along with uncounted gatherings to play. The social bonds formed around beach volleyball are strong, and banning people from playing is quite difficult to enforce. If people are going to play, the least they can do is mitigate the avenues of viral transmission. The tools are simple and limited: social distancing, frequent hand washing, and pervasive masking. Of the three, masking is the one that can be employed while in game.

The main purpose in masking is to contain the spread of droplets from the wearer (and a more limited extent to protect the wearer from inhaling virus). Masking is most effective when it is pervasive (as many people as possible wear it), and continuous (limited removal in social settings). Some players may wear masks in between games, but would remove them to play. This can obviate the useful effects.

Ideally, players should recognize that no matter how healthy they think they are, they can be conduits for viral infection for others – and this simple act of masking is a compromise. Volleyball facility owners, tournament directors, and coaches, rather than hiding behind a liability waiver, should require masking for all players, including during play (with reasonable exceptions for drinking or eating). The AVP athletes should set an example and wear masks, to send a message that they care about controlling the transmission.

We can all manage the risk if we work together.

Objections to masking

  1. Lack of oxygen. Wearers complain that mask wearing cuts off oxygen – this is easily debunked. Mask wearing does not impede the availability of oxygen.
  2. Mask gets wet due to sweat. Having spare masks around to replace the wet mask fixes this problem easily.
  3. Masking is not perfect protection. Wearing any mask limits transmission more than being unmasked by any measure. Perfect protection is not necessary.
  4. Athletes tested negative recently. This is a non sequitur. True negative results are difficult to validate, and masking guards against the possibility of false negative, or interim infection from spreading.
  5. Masking is uncomfortable. Like any skill that’s new, it’s a challenge. Improvement comes from embracing the uncomfortable and accepting it as a challenge.
  6. Our group only plays with each other. Unless you can guarantee that all members of the group never interact with others outside of the group for two weeks after the most recent contact, masking still cuts down the risk of transmission.

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