As the severity of the H1N1 or swine flu pandemic increases, governments are taking significant steps to deal with any severe outbreak. The US has already authorized the release of significant portions of it’s flu medication stockpiles and many states are activating their pandemic flu plans. Most of these plans were put into place after the avian flu outbreak in Asia.
Soccer leagues should also be taking steps to be prepared if things get worse. We are responsible for significant gatherings of children, often across school district lines, which could aid in the spread of an illness like this. Now, I’m not talking about over reacting, and the media certainly can overhype things. But when the World Health Organization is seeing significant human to human transmission of a virus that humans don’t have a natural immunity to – it has the potential to be very serious. So there is nothing wrong with leagues being prepared.
So what should soccer leagues be doing?
- Find out of your state has a Pandemic Flu plan. Many states do. Here is North Carolina’s (my home state). In particular, look for sections pertaining to ‘Community Containment’ or ‘Social Distancing’. Again, here is the applicable section for North Carolina. It will often provide hints as to how the state will respond if the pandemic worsens and at what stages they will limit social/community gatherings. NC uses a ‘Pandemic Severity Index’ with applicable durations (4 weeks and 12 weeks), depending on severity, for limiting community interaction (adults and children).
- Most community programs that involve children will follow the lead of the schools. In NC, the pandemic flu plans talks about the use of ‘snow days’ to close schools since that will trigger the closure of many other programs (day cares, after school programs, sports activities, etc.) If someone in your league works at your school district’s central office – reach out to them. They are likely to hear about things quickly in terms of future closings, pandemic threshold levels, infection rates, etc. This could be especially important if your state doesn’t have a pandemic flu plan.
- Find online sources of information. Not CNN or Fox News. Direct sources of information about the pandemic and steps state officials are taking (see list below). A great place to start is your state’s Health and Human Services department. Ours is providing detailed media briefings and has a wealth of information available. The media briefings will be where states announce any efforts to limit social/community interactions.
- Tap someone in your league to be the person responsible for getting informed and monitoring news/government information sources. They can review your state’s plans, work to find the best sources of information, and keep your league officers up to date on what’s happening.
- Touch base with your state soccer association and see if they are putting together tips or information on steps local leagues can take or if they plan to issues state wide activity suspensions and how will those be communicated.
- If things continue to worsen, or your state sees an outbreak, start to think about contingency plans for extended cancellations of activities. What would your league do if you had to suspend activities for 4 weeks? What if that happened when travel tryouts were scheduled? Would you simply cancel the rest of the season or try to make it up later in the year? Would you be able to? How would promotion and relegation be handled if you use it?
- Be prepared to responded intelligently to your parents. I guarantee you if this gets worse, parents will be asking if soccer activities will be suspended long before schools are closed. How will you answer those questions? You don’t want your parents thinking the league is unprepared for this – that can cause many problems down the road. So get ready to respond to parents and issue league wide communications to let your parents know the league is monitoring the situation and getting prepared. Note most health experts are NOT encouraging the use of masks, except for those already sick or in health care settings – so if things reach that point – expect parents to ask about wearing of masks.
Hopefully all this preparation will be for naught and the virus will burn out quickly without causing widespread suffering. But when many soccer leagues lack a severe weather policy, let alone a policy to deal with something like this, now would be a great time to get informed and putting something like that together. Even if it’s as simple as stating your league will follow the lead of the schools and the recommendations of state and local health departments, it shows you did your homework and have the kid’s best interests at heart.
Here are some other sources of information on the H1N1 Flu:
- CDC Swine Flu Website
- CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report – Despite the ghoulish name, this report provides almost realtime information about where outbreaks are occurring.
- PandemicFlu.gov – Clearinghouse for US government pandemic flu information
- List of state pandemic flu plans from PandemicFlu.gov
- World Health Organization’s main Influenza page