Adapting During COVID-19 the West Point Way

April 24, 2020 by Elizabeth Quinn

During the COVID-19 pandemic, athletic trainers have stepped up to help their local health care systems in multiple ways, including screening, telemedicine and infrastructure. NATA will share what athletic trainers everywhere are doing to care for their patients, communities and themselves during this time.

New York City has become a hotspot for COVID-19 with more than 110,000 confirmed cases as of April 15, according to the New York City government. The state of New York has been able to test more than 500,000 people for COVID-19, reports Johns Hopkins University, with a fifth of the positive tests coming from the city alone.

Fifty miles north of New York City is the U.S. Military Academy West Point. Athletic trainers for the academy’s athletics, Tim Kelly, ATC, and Jacqui McCann, ATC, said everything changed overnight while the academy was on spring break.

“The shelter-in-place orders, cancellation of sports and gathering limits were initiated during the academy’s spring break,” McCann said. “Athletic seasons abruptly ended regardless of being contenders in championship play, beginning of league play or even spring training seasons. Like most other universities, spring break was originally extended, then the decision to send all the cadets home indefinitely was made. For an academy deep-rooted in structure and history, the unknowns revolving [around] COVID-19 have had – and continues to have – a renowned effect on our cadets, cadet athletes, staff and officers.”

Like many other ATs during this time, Kelly and McCann turned to technology to assist in keeping in contact with their cadet-athletes. Responsibility is something that is engrained in the cadets from the moment they join the academy, so communicating with these athletes has become even easier, they said.

“Unique to West Point is the fact that from the moment our cadet-athletes stepped on campus, accountability and strong communication is honed into their daily lives and is critical for their success,” Kelly said. “That being said, it is even easier to text, call, email our athletes for physical and mental health check-ins knowing that they will respond in a prompt and timely manner. Also the ability to do multi-person video chats has done wonders in bringing back the team atmosphere we all miss dearly – what a fun way to interact with everyone all at once.”

All the changes caused by COVID-19 haven’t detracted from the academy’s mission. The superintendent’s vision “to protect the force and carry out the mission” still rings true during the pandemic, Kelly said. Even with the coronavirus, the vision has not changed; instead, the steps to uphold the vision have altered.

“A common saying you will hear among the corps and our cadet-athletes is ‘adapt and overcome,’ and that is simply what has been done,” McCann said.

The athletic department has created a COVID-19 website with resources and information for staff and cadet-athletes, Kelly said. Staff also stresses the importance of doing their part to flatten the curve because the virus should be taken seriously, he said.

“We also remind our cadet-athletes often that this is a stressful time for everyone,” Kelly said. “So much is going on, and our day-to-day lives are changing quickly. A lot of people are isolating and social distancing; just know you are not alone. We are a family and all here for each other. We will get through this together, and we continue to inform them of the resources that are available.”

West Point prides itself on a strong sense of community, McCann said. Needing to conduct medical screenings of everyone who enters the post, the athletic training staff stepped up to provide these screenings.

“Anyone who enters the gates at West Point must be surveyed, medically screened and have their temperature taken before being granted access,” he said. “If they have a high temperature or are flagged on their questionnaire, they are referred to our staff for a more thorough screening. The screening process ensures we are helping keep the West Point community as safe as possible as well as getting people the help they need.”

With more forced down time, Kelly said he and McCann have been able to grow their skill set by listening to podcasts, attending webinars, becoming well-versed in telecommunication for rehabilitation treatments and taking advantage of all of the online CEU courses that have been made available.

“We must practice what we preach; keeping structure to our daily routine is very important,” Kelly said. “We stick to a routine, make a schedule for the week ahead with meetings and tasks that must be completed. We reach out to our cadet-athletes and co-workers daily to check in. We make sure we get enough exercise, eat healthy and practice good sleep hygiene. We need to be taking care of ourselves to be able to continue to help others.”

Kelly and McCann have some advice for other athletic trainers who are looking to get involved with their community during the pandemic.

“Get involved any way that you can,” they said. “Help your communities, families, friends and athletes. Getting involved will look different for each of us, as some are not able to physically help as it may put them or their families in danger, but every little bit helps! We can be calling to check in on our neighbors, the elderly, family, friends and athletes/patients. We can be working on protocols to prepare us for a new normal when we return to the office. Put focus and energy into ways that we can be treating athletes/patients from afar, regularly checking on people that have been quarantined and letting them know they are not alone.”

The academy recently published how ATs are working on “a new call to action.” Read more of their story on the West Point website.