Athletic trainer Rich Garini, works with a patient at MaineGeneral Medical Center recently. Contributed photo

With the Maine high school spring sports season cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, athletic trainers in central Maine found a new role, helping those in the medical field at the front of the battle against Covid-19.

Daycare centers for the children of MaineGeneral employees were set up at three locations: Kennebec Valley YMCA and the Children’s Center in Augusta, as well as the Alfond Youth and Community Center in Waterville. Chris Sementelli, program manager for MaineGeneral Sports Medicine, and the 10 athletic trainers on his staff are working at each site, screening everyone entering the facilities.

“We’re utilizing our skill and knowledge of the families in the area to provide screens. We have staff at all three sites, 12 to 14 hours a day. We screen everybody, just to be safe,” Sementelli said.

Athletic trainer Chris Sementelli cools off players from the West squad during the annual Lobster Bowl last July 20 in Saco. Portland Press Herald file photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

As the outbreak began, Sementelli began to formulate a plan for his staff to help the fight.

“Chris was really proactive. He foresaw this coming along,” said Jill Haskell, an athletic trainer with MaineGeneral since 2001.

The health screens involve taking everybody’s temperature before they are allowed into the facility, as well as asking a series of questions. Have you felt any illness symptoms? Have you been exposed to anybody who has the coronavirus or Covid-19? Have you traveled out the area recently?

“It’s a different routine for us. It’s a new challenge,” Sementelli said.

“We do what we can,” said Nick Thompson, an athletic trainer with MaineGeneral since 2005. “If us doing this helps free up other health care workers to do what they need to do, I’m happy to do this all day.”

At Colby College, where seven athletic trainers would normally be working with hundreds of student-athletes, head athletic trainer Tim Weston and his staff are keeping tabs on student-athletes who have left the Waterville campus and gone home. This could include anything from making sure athletes are properly rehabilitating an injury, maintaining a healthy diet, or need a hand with a mental health issue.

“The student-athletes are very appreciative. I talked to a couple (Thursday),” Weston said.

Colby has approximately 80 students still living on campus, students who could not safely return home when the college transitioned to distance learning in March. Weston and his staff help make sure those students are safe and healthy.

It took a few days of training to get the MaineGeneral athletic training ready for their new roles. Before taking on these new responsibilities March 25, Sementelli and his staff conducted online training tutorials to learn the equipment they’d use to take temperatures, and how to follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

From the beginning, the screening process has gone smoothly, Haskell said.

“Kids are so resilient. The first day, we had four athletic trainers there, and we didn’t have one kid cry,” Haskell said. “They know it’s coming. It’s routine. They do it. We’ve had such a great experience with it.”

Children at the facility are kept as socially distant as possible, with chairs set up on opposite sides of the rooms, which are cleaned multiple times each day, Haskell said.

“Kids are kids and they’re still going to play,” Haskell said.

The athletic trainers are available to treat the inevitable bumps and bruises that come when children play, although Haskell and Thompson noted each facility has its own staff on hand with first-aid training.

When a child has become sick in any way, he or she has been quarantined until they can be sent home, Thompson said.

While there’s no school sports at this time, Sementelli said he and the other athletic trainers are still in contact with the athletic directors and coaches at the area high school contracted with MaineGeneral, offering advice and tips for how students can safely work out on their own. Student-athletes who had begun an injury rehabilitation program prior to March 16 can communicate with their athletic trainer through calls, texts or emails.

“Students are on a strength and conditioning program. We’re trying to stay accessible to our athletes,” Sementelli said.

At Colby, Weston serves on the school’s operations and logistics committee. The committee is a collaboration between Colby’s various departments and serves as a sort of emergency action plan, Weston said. The idea is to have a plan in place to respond quickly, calmly and without hesitation when a problem arises. Weston said his role is to transport and quarantine any remaining students if instructed by the college’s health services.

The athletic trainers will continue to conduct the screenings at each of the day care facilities for as long as necessary.

“We knew going in, at anytime all the people at MaineGeneral are going to be needed in any capacity,” Sementelli said.

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