One of the many disorienting aspects of this pandemic is that we're all out of our element, all the time. None of us are epidemiologists or virologists, but we've had to get crash-course educations in how viruses work all the same. When the threat of myocarditis became apparent last month, cardiologists suddenly became the most important figures in college football.
This created another issue. When a cardiologist emerged with an opinion, it was hard to place that opinion into context. Was this doctor -- whose name none of us knew one minute prior but happened to be going viral on Twitter -- the Nick Saban of cardiology or the [insert bad coach here] of the field?
Thankfully, there's no mistaking the validity of this doctor's opinion.
Tweeted directly from the @NCAA account, Dr. Aaron Baggish shares an opinion that begins, "I do not believe that cardiac concerns about myocarditis in student-athletes should be a reason to cancel college sports," he said. "The algorithms we put into place, I firmly believe are going to identify the high-risk athletes that should be restricted, and that should be an individual decision among team physicians, sports cardiologists and the athlete."
So, we know Dr. Baggish's opinion, but what credentials does Dr. Baggish have to support that opinion? Glad you asked:
Dr. Baggish received his medical degree from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and then completed internal medicine training and cardiovascular fellowship at the Massachusetts General Hospital. His on-going research focuses on heart function and heart disease in athletic individuals. He is the Director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program, a Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center program that provides clinical care and exercise testing for active individuals. Dr. Baggish is medical director for the Boston Marathon and serves as team cardiologist for the New England Patriots, the Boston Bruins, the New England Revolution, US Men's and Women's Soccer, and US Rowing.
There we have one of the leading experts -- let's be honest, for all we know this could be the leading expert -- on heart function in athletes, saying that heart function should not shut down athletics amid this pandemic.
That doesn't mean Dr. Baggish thinks it's time to spike the football and start doing a touchdown dance. He just doesn't think myocarditis should be a reason to pack the ball up and go home.
"The decision to play football or other collegiate sports right now is much more, in my opinion, about the ability to contain transmission of this virus. It's a public health issue rather than a cardiology issue," he said. "I do not want people to come away from this discussion thinking that cardiac concerns should be the primary driver of canceling sports right now."
Asked specifically what screenings athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 should undergo before returning to the field, Dr. Baggish said that those who experienced no or mild symptoms -- which he defined as "the neck and above" -- "do not need more pre-participation screenings than they would get in a normal, pre-covid environment." Athletes who experienced moderate or severe bouts of COVID-19 should go through the battery of heart tests before returning to play, he said.
"The vast majority of athletes that we're seeing come back now either didn't know they had disease or were just sick with mild symptoms for just a couple of days, and we're just not finding pathology that matters in those people," Dr. Baggish said later. "...Doing more advanced testing without really knowing what you're going to do with the information because we simply don't know what normal is, is going to end up causing more harm than good."