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Dr. Greg Stewart, Medical Director of the Tulane Professional Athlete Care Team clinic, poses at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. The clinic has seen more than 500 former NFL players have visited the Tulane Professional Athlete Care Team clinic.

As co-director of Tulane’s Sports Medicine Program and the Green Wave’s team physician, Dr. Greg Stewart is an authority on sports injuries and treatment.

Stewart’s role as a major voice for the LHSAA’s sports medicine advisory committee is perhaps one of his most intriguing challenges because of the coronavirus.

Asking an orthopedic physician who speaks to tendencies and precautions during the coronavirus pandemic might sound a bit like telling a fish to ride a bicycle.

For Stewart, it goes with the territory.

As the chairman of the American Athletic Conference’s COVID-19 medical advisory group, Stewart has knowledge he is not afraid to bluntly share.

For example, when LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine revealed that a small number of football players had tested positive for COVID-19 at four schools scattered across the state just over a week after voluntary workouts began, Stewart was not surprised.

Nor was Stewart surprised to hear the number of schools had increased by the end of the week and the totals included at least one non-football player and a coach. Though most schools have been reluctant to acknowledge positive tests, Lutcher High announced through a Saturday social media post that workouts for its boys sports are suspended. 

“If I am surprised by anything, it’s that it took this long. I think everybody knew it was going to happen. This won’t end until there is a vaccine. Treatments are good, but they don’t stop cases from happening,” Stewart said. “I think the big question now is can we somehow keep it under control so that we can continue to participate and practice sports and not have to shut everything down.

“This situation is changing every day. The student-athletes and parents have to realize this isn’t about me, this about everybody else. So, if I am feeling the least bit bad. Or if someone I have been in contact with tested positive, I have to report it. The last thing you want to do is get sick and then get everybody else sick.”

Both Stewart and Bonine deny assertions that current cases came from school-related workouts. The science does not support it, according to Stewart.

“More than likely if you are symptomatic this week, then you were exposed to the virus before teams started workouts,” Stewart said.

“If you come in and are symptomatic today, the shortest amount of time since exposure is likely to be three days out. Potentially, you can be from 14 to 17 days out from being exposed.”

Bonine added, “I will report everything we know to the executive committee Wednesday. The number (of COVID-19 cases) is not going to get any smaller.

“There are a lot of ways out there to get exposure. But the bottom line is this — kids are not getting exposure at the schools; they are getting it away from schools.”

Statewide numbers validate those comments.

Gov. John Bel Edwards noted a “concerning” rise in the number of COVID-19 cases this week as Louisiana continues in Phase 2 of re-opening after a stay-at-home order in place for more than two months. Louisiana reported 2,000 new cases statewide over the past three days as of Saturday, according to state health officials.

Bonine says one key order of business for the LHSAA executive committee during Wednesday’s summer meeting is approving a medical release return-to-practice form that must be filled out by athletes and coaches who test positive for COVID-19.

Stewart said it is difficult to predict what the remainder of the summer and fall sports will look like because the coronavirus parameters change so quickly. The fact professional athletes and some college athletes can be put in controlled environments while high school athletes cannot, must not be overlooked as sports attempt to move forward.

“I don’t think there is any question about it … we will have some event cancelations during the fall. We’re at mid-June now and we know the first games are going to be at the end of August,” Stewart said. “Between now and then all sorts of things can happen … both good and bad. If things continue as they are today and there is this uptick of cases across the state, then you are going to have cities and parishes that are going to start shutting down again. Then everything changes.”

Sanitization and safety are keywords for Stewart. He said he expects temperature checks, health-screening questions, large bottles of hand sanitizer and vigilant sanitization of weight rooms and equipment after each use to become a way of life for high schools and their athletes.

Yes, Stewart recommends wearing masks in the weight room and for other indoor drills.

COVID-19 shields that can be attached to a football helmet are already being sold. Other face shields that can cover a player’s face for other sports, including basketball, are in the works, according to Stewart.

Managing the evolving nature of COVID-19 and everything that goes with it is not easy, Stewart concedes, but is necessary.

“There is certainly a lot of quarantine fatigue that is going on. People are tired of it and it is not fun,” Stewart said. “I tell people all the time, New Orleans is a city looking for any reason to have a party. This (COVID-19) has taken the reasons away. It’s not over and we have to be careful.”


Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com