COVID-19. A phrase we’re all too familiar with, longing for the day when it’s used in the context of past tense. It’s changed our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined only 12-months ago and yet, like so many businesses across the globe, Bath Rugby has quickly adapted to the unique challenges it presents.
Helen Shand, medical administrator, is one of the key Bath Rugby staff members responsible for implementing the COVID-19 protocols.
“It’s challenging, particularly when thinking back to the restart in June" she commented.
"We have learnt a lot. At the beginning of the process, everything was pretty unknown, and we relied on the RFU, Premiership Rugby, and DCMS for guidance and support. We took the information and what was required of us and made sure we adhered to the standards.
“We are also fortunate in that our doctor – Dr. Guy Evans – works across a few different sports, so we’ve been able to benefit from his knowledge of how other professional bodies are managing COVID and draw on any key learnings.”
Bath’s understanding of the processes required to limit the spread of COVID-19 has rapidly developed and, as Helen says, the Club continues to take a rigorous approach to ensure player and staff safety.
“We’ve been doing this nearly a year now, so our processes and checks are much more refined; we know how to deal with any issues in an efficient and safe way. Our approach all along has been to do whatever is required to protect our players and staff. In the few times, we have seen positive cases, we have been very stringent on how we respond. Our response has always been very conservative.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky in Bath so far in that while we have had cases, they’ve been isolated and haven’t led to further outbreaks. That’s in some part down to the rigorous processes we have in place, and it’s also a reflection of where we are in the country, and the rate of infection in the county versus other areas.”
While some aspects of match week remain unchanged, the virus has undoubtedly had a significant effect on how the club operates to ensure a safe environment. From testing on a Monday, through to the final whistle, strict protocols have been introduced as Helen describes:
“It can vary week-to-week but typically, we start on a Monday morning by testing everyone. That includes the squad, management, and any staff involved with the team on a matchday. We don’t get the results back until the following day, so everyone has to be super vigilant. Social distancing, masks, regular sanitizing, and no contact.
“On Tuesday we get the results from the testing back and, if everyone is negative, training will resume as normal. Off the training field, however, the same rules in regard to social distancing apply even when all players are negative. A test only really tells you your status at the moment of testing, and everyone needs to act as if they could have the virus in order to protect themselves and everyone else.
“The day prior to the fixture, where we need to travel the night before, we have had to make a few adjustments. Players now room by themselves rather than in pairs to maintain social distancing, and only essential staff travel the night before.
“On matchday, entry into the ground is very tightly controlled, because you’re entering the ‘red zone’ which is effectively the area where the team, management, and support staff are; the pitch, the tunnel, changing rooms, dug-out areas. You have to be tested to be in the red zone and are required to wear a mask, fill out a questionnaire, and have a temperature check.”
We’ve become familiar with seeing empty stadiums on our television screens since rugby returned last year, with numerous changes required on a matchday to facilitate the games.
“There are a few differences: anyone coming onto the pitch such as medical staff, water carriers, have to be in protective equipment, water bottles have to be individual to the players, and players have to remain socially distanced when not on the pitch. So the bench or any travelling players can’t sit next to each other. The rule is if you don’t need to be in contact – I.E not on the pitch – then you must maintain social distancing.”
Crucial to combating the virus is working together, and in this case, working with the opposition to identify any potential transmission should a player test positive after the fixture.
“After the game, if a player were to test positive on a Monday morning during normal testing, we would instruct them to isolate and then go about contact tracing. We work with the player to identify anyone they’ve been in close contact with, including reviewing the match footage. We go through all the information we have to determine what action then needs to be taken, working with the opposition club.”
There is light at the end of the tunnel, with vaccines now rolling out at pace across the country and the dream of crowds back at the Rec now a real possibility.
Until then, Helen and the rest of the players, management, and staff continue to put safety at the forefront.