It’s been more than two months now since I made the decision to put a pause on tennis lessons and I think its safe to say it’s been a real rollercoaster ride for everyone since then. In recent weeks, as outdoor recreation facilities (including tennis courts) have begun to open up again, I’ve started teaching on a one-on-one basis. I’m happy to report now that I see a lot of positive developments and can see a lot more tennis in our near future!
Tennis has a number of natural advantages over other sports and activities that considerably reduce the risk of Covid-19 contraction:
Tennis is a sport that requires no physical contact. Players can avoid ever coming within six feet of each other with relative ease.
Tennis, in the case of Santa Barbara, is played exclusively outside and that typically means a warm, sunny environment. Coronavirus research suggests that outdoor spaces are much safer than indoor environments as far as the passing of the virus. Not only do outdoor sports allow for the dispersion of droplets, but it has also been demonstrated by the DHS that Covid-19 has a lifespan of only 1.5-2 minutes when under direct sunlight.
In addition to the rapid inactivation of the virus, sunlight also provides the human body with Vitamin D, a critical element in a healthy immune system. It’s estimated that approximately half of all people living in the United States have inadequate levels of Vitamin D. Considering the areas that have been hardest hit (parts of the US and Europe that were deep in winter), there is a likely correlation between sunlight and the rate of serious complications from Covid-19.
Research conducted by Northwestern University concluded that healthy Vitamin D levels could reduce mortality rates in Coronavirus cases by 50%. It should also be noted that there is a very strong correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and the age-group most likely to die from the virus: those 65 years of age and up.
Recent data points to much lower mortality rates than previously thought, and those deaths are heavily predicated on age and pre-virus health condition, which means its fairly easy to comprehend the potential risks on an individual basis:
Today, I came upon a research study just published by USC, which determined the rate of infection in LA County based on antibody testing. Their data suggests an infection rate of 4.65% of the overall population of the county (10.6 million).
By my math, that’s about half a million people, of which so far only 1,821 have died due to Coronavirus. While every death is regrettable, that works out to a mortality rate of only 0.36% in LA County. I find this number to be very encouraging, because prior to antibody studies like this one, we were using “positive test result” as the denominator. In this case, there are 38,100 positive cases in LA County, which led to an estimated mortality rate that was 13X the number we now estimate.
In addition to the lower-than-expected mortality rates, data about susceptibility to serious illness also should offer most tennis players some peace of mind. The best data I could find regarding co-morbidities and age-grouping is a weekly report for New York City Coronavirus related deaths.
In the most recent report, it was found that only 0.87% of those who died were known not to have serious underlying conditions such as vital organ disease, diabetes, cancer, immunodeficiency, or obesity. In addition, 71% of those who died were more than 65 years of age. In short, if you are under 65 and healthy like the vast majority of tennis players, the risk of serious illness from Coronavirus is very low.
Speaking of antibody testing, it’s becoming more widely available (including in Santa Barbara) and early research indicates a high likelihood of at least short-term immunity following recovery:
According to the largest antibody study to-date, carried out by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, nearly all Coronavirus patients developed a healthy amount of antibodies to the virus. While not a guarantee of immunity, there is a high correlation and studies of other coronaviruses have consistently shown it to be the case. Dr. Fauci, head of the NIAID, has gone on record saying “it’s a reasonable assumption that this virus is not changing very much. If we get infected now and it comes back next February or March we think this person is going to be protected.”
For those concerned about “reinfection” stories circulating in the media, these are very rare instances that have very logical explanations in the form of statistically expected testing inaccuracies. In the South Korean case, false positives were registered due to sensitivity levels that picked up dead virus cells.
A few words of caution:
While, for the vast majority of players in the Thorpe Tennis Community, the risk of spreading or contracting a serious case of Covid-19 is close to zero, caution is still needed in order to protect those around us who do not fit the low-risk profile. It’s not just the individuals playing tennis, but also those they come into contact with off the tennis court that need to be considered. Also, while I’ve been quoting some of the foremost researchers in the field, there is still plenty we don’t know about this virus, so a gradual and thoughtful progression back to the courts is still advisable.
What’s Next for Thorpe Tennis?
For the time being, I will be continuing to teach only on a one-on-one basis, but I’m certainly hopeful that one day soon we’ll be back to our Sunday Sessions and Summer Tennis Camps. It has been so great to get back out with a few students these last couple of weeks and the time off solidified for me just how much I love my work!