As a retired orthopedic surgeon, former eventer and current para dressage competitor I would like to briefly address the current COVID-19 pandemic.
We in the equestrian community are truly fortunate to have had competitions restarted thanks to a number of former rules that have been temporarily changed in response to the halt in competitions and to adjust to future potential problems. It behooves all of us to contribute to viral spread reduction in order to avoid having all competitions halted again.
The good news is that unlike during the 1918 influenza pandemic, responsible for nearly 50 million deaths worldwide, we now have powerful antibiotics to address the bacterial complications of the virus and intensive care units with ventilators. Unfortunately, we not only lack a vaccine as well as proven effective antiviral treatment, but there are a number of “lessons” the 1918 flu taught us that today many individuals are not taking seriously.
The clear message from numerous public health experts and their organizations is that, in the absence of a vaccine or proven effective treatment, the best we can all do is to control the spread of the virus.
As of this writing, more than 200,000 have died in the U.S. from COVID-19. Although we all want to return to pre-pandemic competition, it is not safe to do things as we did previously. The USEF has been instrumental in producing an excellent COVID-19 toolkit, which applies to competitions and is available on the USEF website. Most importantly, there must be a communal sense of responsibility at all competitions as well as in our everyday lives.
Currently, the best we can all do as trainers, family members and competitors is to help modify viral spread. The best information we have at this time is to wear masks, socially distance, and sanitize our hands numerous times every day, as well as sanitizing those surfaces we touch, which also may have been touched by multiple other people. (At a horse show this includes things like gate and stall door latches, port-a-potty door handles, and the handle at the water spigot).
When I returned to competition a couple of months ago, it was extremely concerning to me to have witnessed many people, without masks, crowded together and not practicing social separation. There were several picnic tables near one of the competition rings where six to eight people were seated shoulder to shoulder eating or observing the competition. In short, everyone seemed to be behaving as if life was normal and there was no pandemic.
I found it encouraging that only three weeks later, at the second schooling show at the same venue, behavior had drastically changed. Nearly everyone who was not mounted was wearing a mask. Even the sign-in area had a large sign reminding attendees that only one person at a time could register and all others needed to remain six feet back. The same picnic tables had a maximum of two people per table.
Personally, I can only address the problem in Charleston County, South Carolina and the state in general as I live here, and the numbers are rising steadily. Unfortunately increases in the infection rate seem to be related to relaxation of prior lockdown and the unwise assumption by some that this virus does not pose a potentially very serious problem or that some people are “immune” to infection. Additionally it is clear that viral infection can be asymptomatic such that an infected person is clinically well. These individuals are likely to unwittingly spread the virus amongst their peers.
It is clear from all the data that this is not exclusively a disease of the elderly or those otherwise medically compromised. There are certain medical conditions that apparently increase risk, and children seem less susceptible in general. However, it must be remembered that infections are seen in young, healthy individuals such as high school, collegiate and professional sports teams and even in elite athletes.
The equine community is not immune to the complications of COVID-19, and in order to protect ourselves and the sport we love, I encourage everyone to abide by the USEF guidelines and take precautions to keep the sport safe and functioning.