Concerns for small schools

Large, wealthy universities like Vanderbilt have cutting-edge medical facilities with the resources and expertise to properly interpret cardiac MRIs. Smaller schools could struggle to get their athletes screened.

“There’s only a small number of centers around the country that have the true expertise to be able to effectively do cardiac MRIs on athletes,” said Dr. Dermot Phelan, a sports cardiologist with Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C. “And the reality is that those systems are already stretched trying to deal with normal clinical data. If we were to add a huge population of athletes on top of that, I think we would stretch the medical system significantly.”

Some schools with limited resources for testing could decide to bench athletes recovering from moderate or severe COVID-19 rather than risk a devastating event. Others could allow athletes to resume playing once they’ve recovered, and then monitor them for signs of cardiac complications. Many NCAA schools added automated external defibrillators after Gathers’ death in case an athlete collapses during a game or practice.

“You think about all the 100,000 high school athletes out there whose parents are concerned: Do they even have access to anyone who knows something about this? On the other hand, they’re younger people who don’t get really sick with COVID,” said Dr. James Udelson, a cardiologist with Tufts Medical Center in Boston. “There’s a concern about how much we don’t know.”

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