COVID’s lingering impact on high school athletes
By Jason Perloff
Mathew Giron Blanco, a sophomore football player at Annandale High School, got Covid-19 last fall and had to sit out for a minimum five days. That is policy at Fairfax County Public Schools.
“Yeah, I felt lonely because I couldn’t go anywhere, and couldn’t interact with friends and family,” Giron Blanco said. “The days went by slowly and I felt trapped.”
He is not alone. Evolve Treatment Centers reported on a study that found more than half of high school athletes who took a survey said they sometimes feel isolated or disconnected, and nearly a third find themselves frustrated more often.
This is the case even though FCPS has decreased Covid restrictions as the effects of the virus have lessened. Testing before games is now optional, even if you have Covid symptoms. If you do take a test, though, and it comes back positive, athletes must stay away from school, and their teams, for at least five days, and test negative before their return.
Dozens of Annandale football players were out for a week after the flu spread among the team last fall. For his part, Giron Blanco had Covid and the flu.
Abel Webshet, a runner on Annandale’s winter track team, said his team also had mass outings due to illness in the season just past. “The times I was sick it really affected my ability to improve as a runner,” he said.
Towards the end of fall and during the winter, respiratory illnesses are at their all-time highs. Each year a new flu vaccine comes out to protect against the new strains that come along. The CDC strongly suggests two Covid shots, plus a third if you are moderately or severely immunocompromised.
Giron Blanco said he has lingering physical effects from his bout of Covid.
“It felt harder to be active and I was less motivated,” he said. “It was very frustrating. I did not feel like my normal self. However, I kept moving forward. … I still think it did some respiratory damage and may have set me back a few steps.”
The Sports Journal, which conducted the survey of high school athletes, said the results of its study suggested that students should be given additional support “to protect the mental health of the athletes, especially to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.”
Annandale High School offers counseling for students who feel they are in need of it.
“I think FCPS is doing as much as they can to provide resources for the students and athletes to get through these years post-Covid,” Giron Blanco said. “Eventually sports will return to normal.”
Jason Perloff is a rising junior at Annandale High School in Annandale, Va. He worked with Youthcast Media Group journalist-mentors on this story during the 2022-23 school year.