How we can approach a ‘new normal’ in squash: with masks and gloves compulsory to start with
By RICHARD MILLMAN – Squash Mad Correspondent
While we are hunkered down, staying home to allow our amazing front line workers in the hospitals, ambulances, police, armed forces etc to do their brave and essential work in combatting this terrible virus, we cannot but cast our worried minds toward the survival of our beloved game.
We don’t yet know if we will have vaccines, anti-body testing, plasma donations or indeed whether or not we will be able to become reinfected having once had the Covid-19 virus.
We do know that unless we meticulously take steps to protect our fellows and ourselves, whatever activities we engage in outside our own homes could, potentially, lead to spread of the disease and a spike in infections and – horrifically – deaths.
But. We must prepare our sport for the day that we can begin to approach the ‘new normal’ in the history of squash.
I have been talking with multiple NGB’s about how we can make a limited return to the game as safely as possible.
Towards this end we have adapted the iMask face shield to create a full-length version that can be used to provide a barrier to infection both from the user to the outside world and the outside world to the user.
We are hoping to help out-of-work coaches earn some revenue by giving them commission on sales to their networks of club members, players, students and friends. Announcements will be made shortly.
Discussions about precisely how to return to squash are in very early stages. But here are some initial thoughts:
1. Players will not be able to tarry in and around courts and clubs. We will have to turn up at an appointed time, play and leave.
2. Players will need to wear a full face shield, a quality cycling or running anti-pollution mask (designed for athletic breathing) and likely lightweight waterproof gloves (to prevent spread via sweat on the ball or on walls and doors).
3. We will have to play a version of the game that is called ‘Sides’ or the ‘Crosscourt Game’. The rules are very simple. You must play all your shots across the court to your opponent’s side of the court. To win a point, your ball must bounce twice in your opponent’s half. If your second bounce lands in your own half, the ball is out. This is a tremendously fast and athletic version of the game because, while the court is half as big, the game is twice as fast as a consequence.
4. Once we can begin the ‘new normal’ and we have at least some play, our out of work coaches can begin to do some socially distanced coaching (boast drive, drop drive, drop lob, short games, crosscourt deep game, boast crosscourt games, diagonal games, volley games etc) and in doing so, revitalize participation with their energy and enthusiasm.
5. We must be careful of air conditioning systems. We may have to suffer in the hot weather rather than recirculate the virus. Be prepared to sweat.
6. We will have to clean and ‘bomb’ courts before and after every game with disinfecting mist.
7. We can begin self-scheduling tournaments of the ‘Sides’ games. I would recommend first club championships, with winners going on to city or district or area championships. Players should send videos of the matches to the organisers and organisers should ask all members of the club or association to vote on the best rally. Since no one will be there to watch, we can achieve community with video.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Just some of the things we have come up with so far.
My friend Rob Eberhard in Canada is developing some really innovative software to help people return to club life and interact. Look out for that – he is really on the ball.
I believe the next World Squash Day will perhaps be the most important World Squash Day of our existence.
We must proceed extremely carefully and safely.
But we must proceed. Or squash will not survive.
Stay well, my friends, and stay safe.
Because whenever World Squash Day comes and we begin the ‘new normal’ we must be ready.
Completely disagree about gloves being used. There is no evidence to suggest that sweat will contain viral particles as the virus multiplies in the respiratory tract rather than in the bloodstream or under the skin. There’s no evidence to suggest ‘catching’ sweat in gloves to prevent spread is an effective measure.
In fact, all of the official advice is that wearing gloves encourages spread of the virus as people are less likely to wash their hands and more likely to touch more stuff between washes.
Most masks don’t have filter sizes small enough to catch the virus. The virus is microns in diameter. A mask can diffuse spread of airborne particulates, but sports masks will generally permit as free exhalation as possible. Air con or otherwise squash courts are generally poorly ventilated. You’re gonna be exposed and probably covered in virus carrying particles.
Even if you don’t breathe them in straight away, if contaminated particles are all through your hair etc and you then touch your eyes / nose / mouth it’s a route of infection.
Showering after a game is going to be really super important as per above. If you’re covered in virus carrying particles, then washing them off has to be top priority.
It’s impossible to ‘bomb’ a squash court with disinfectant mist. To achieve knock down in viral load, especially when dealing with porous materials such as plaster and wood, the chemicals used need to be pretty strong. As anyone who’s ever had a half a breath of formaldehyde will tell you, these chemicals aren’t to be messed with.
When fogging or using similar things you need to be able to seal whatever it is you’re fogging to a good degree. You then need to set your misting levels to allow quick drying (reducing contact time of the chemical agent) and you’re probably still going to have a really unpleasant residue and players with very irritated eyes / lungs.
Generally fogging chemicals that work are pretty strictly controlled so not just anyone can buy them.
Great comments Mike.
Clearly the virus can live on skin and on clothing; that is the point of wearing gloves. That’s also why the top health scientists have stopped us shaking hands.
The idea of the anti-pollution masks for cycling is for N95 or even N99 filters to be frequently changed in the mask. If the masks don’t work then there are a lot of people wasting their time on the planet at the moment.
Showering and generally congregating in clubs will be a no-no.
Most authorities are advising that Face Shields will become a more effective way of providing a barrier.
As for cleaning courts – light disinfectant sprays or even using UV lights are a possibility.
Anyway, thank you for taking the time to comment and hopefully your comments will elicit further discussion.
I’m senior management specialising in biosecurity with specific regard to prevention of H5N1 and other serious nasties, so my statements are coming from a few years of experience in the field.
I appreciate that the virus lives on skin, and that top scientists have stopped us shaking hands. COVID doesn’t enter the body through the skin however, and the risk of spread through contact is heightened by wearing gloves. Frequent hand washing or sanitising is by far the best solution.
Anti-pollution masks are generally one-way filters so control what you’re breathing in rather than out. They’ll diffuse flow to an extent but not enough for a squash court. And there’s so much around mask fit and seal also – we test everyone before they go on site to make sure masks actually fit. Beards and such negate the seal also so what I’m saying is they’ll have an effect, but not enough on a squash court.
The point I was making was about being covered head to toe in virus containing particles rather than breathing them in, though there’s no guarantee you won’t breathe them in especially in close proximity to another person heavily exhaling.
The risk of spread comes from then touching your arms / hair etc and then your face where the virus is likely to find a mucus membrane to get into the body.
Likewise this shaking hands thing, within the specific context of having just played sport in a confined space and having covered each other in particles is ineffective. You’ve already spread it around so much that shaking hands won’t prevent spread at all.
The risk of passing the virus on to others after leaving the club without showering is huge if you’ve been exposed. Showering is seriously the most important thing you can do in this circumstance and is a very basic infection control principle. We need to wash those particles off before wiping them all over the club / car / public transport / house etc etc.
I would completely support any advice around hand sanitising between / after games and disinfectant sprays to clean down areas, very regularly. Control the heavy touch points.
The science around UV disinfection is debatable and relies heavily on intensity and exposure time. I don’t see a practical solution being made available.
Generally speaking, the measures we are talking about aren’t up to scratch for stopping spread specifically in a squash setting. Out in public I’d agree very much with a lot of your statements.
We need to follow government advice and only reopen when the infection rate is low enough that the government deems it to be safe.I’ll be first in the queue to get back on court believe me.
Thanks again Mike – this is very important information for the community.
Good morning Richard and Mike,
I’d like to begin by thanking Alan for having shared this article, as well as for having giving me the opportunity to comment on it this morning.
While deferring to the different spectra of experience that each of you brings to the discussion and the game, perhaps we could remind ourselves of some minimal perceptions. It is likely that this discussion is goingto be replayed in all (civilized or not) human activities across the planet for a long time to come.
We stand forever indebted to all of those, in the Health, Emergency, Groceries Professions and more who have to go out every day to contend with this unparalleled catastrophe in recent memory. This so the rest of us can live to fight another day.
And yet the defiant gratitude emanating from the Pot Banging, Clapping, Yelling, Orchestral and Musical Choruses on either side of the Atlantic remind us what it is to be Human, and how much more we share than that which divides us. And I speak as someone who watched the WTC go down on 9/11 as well as one who grew up in a neighborhood in India where some celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin!
Squash is the ultimate close encounter in close quarters which is at the interface of the conscious and subconscious and at the limits of neurophysiological extremes.
Translation: Squash is the ultimate recipe for accidents! Touching, breathing, speaking, bumping, leaking face masks (see reports of fogging eyeglasses), tears, skin, hard surfaces, door handles, torn gloves have all been either implicated in or shown to transmit the virus. Even eyes – (Pink Eye caused by COVID-19) was found in a patient returning from Wuhan, China, the original Epicenter! Add to that its presence has also been implicated in immune-privileged area (brain, eyes, testis), where it can lurk in an endemic form and erupt to do its good work whenever some unknown conditions are met! In addition, the virus mutates to new forms that can be resistant to vaccines! Now you have another complication for immunity, vaccines and immunization!
On court the virus can hide in niches, crevices, absorbent surfaces, that Mike mentioned and a myriad other less than visible places.
The virus remains an ever present threat for the foreseeable future.
Compare it with the difficulty in eradicating the one organism predicted to survive a Nuclear Strike – cockroaches. Insects that can be more than a million times larger than COVID-19 and so are far more visually detectable. And Roaches have nothing on COVID-19 in its sheer evolutionary adaptability, courtesy of its mutability, and armory not only in the above etiological terms but also in its virulence and pathogenicity. It attacks brains (causes strokes), kidneys, livers, lungs, blood systems and a growing list that is currently being discovered and assembled!
Whether, in terms of casualties, health, economics, social norms, political processes, security and policing COVID-19 brings in the most devastating consequences and aspects of the Plague in the Dark Ages and the Great Depression (or the Potato Famine) in more recent times while promising to unleash the worst elements of endemic xenophobia across the planet. In other words serious, serious stuff!
COVID-19 (or SARS-Coronavirus 2) has already generated a profound and structural change in all nations. As dear as Squash is to all of us, and as great as the Economic Impact is on the game, it is more than prudent (as in the difference between life and death) and being socially aware to have our passions for the game subsumed by these realities.
At least until the time we get a better handle on the virus with all its impact on Humans. Only a few of the many articles present developments and various choices for a controlled emergence from the current lock down. They already show reasons for being been cautiously optimistic in the results and successes of Asian, European and ANZAC nations.
Squash Players are among the most resilient, social, gritty and determined athletes on the planet. The game cycled through peaks and nadirs for more than 150 years. All this while creating a sporting niche at a time that more easily assimilated and visual sports bloomed. However, this virus is a contender for the worst of diseases!
Be safe – and stay home!
My 2 cents and take it for what it is worth but a face mask and gloves will have minimal impact in a confined area where sweat and heavy breathing takes place. The virus will swirl around like a snow blizzard. It’s a futile remedy. When it is all said and done the sport will resume its normal play.
Dear Alan, Richard and Mike,
The point that Richard raised regarding the economic impact that quarantine has on the very fabric of the game requires more discussion. Something that should be more fully included but in a separate discussion from the questionable wisdom of taking the court with a partner in the immediate future. That is before any understanding of the COVID-19 containment measures have crystallized. This issue is the deep and destructive economic impact of COVID-19 that is inflicted on Squash.
That this issue is expected from Squash being a part of all affected human activities on the planet neither lessens the pain nor the existential threat that it poses for the game.
All this may already be under discussion in the WSF and the PSA but nevertheless bears airing out in the community. As Richard and others have pointed out those who represent the very foundation of Squash are most threatened by the loss inflicted by the necessity of quarantine induced by COVID-19. Those who are Touring and Teaching Pros, Club Owners, Managers, Amateur Competitors, Equipment Manufacturers and Sales, Communications, Public Relations and Publication Personnel are most threatened. A collapse of Squash leading to their migration into other professions or activities might lead to an impact from which the game could not possibly recover.
One possible counterbalance to the impending crisis is for the Global Squash community to put together a small New Deal or Marshall Plan tailored for Squash. The Global Squash community is 20 million strong and is represented in at least 185 countries (US Squash, https://www.ussquash.com/squash-facts/). Voluntary donations from Players and or their families that are commensurate with economic backgrounds would likely produce a reasonable sum which could be partially and immediately used for ameliorating the current crisis. Another partial sum could simultaneously be placed in an escrow fund for all such crisis in the future. The accumulating interest could be re-invested in the escrow fund as well as being applied to meeting the current crisis.
Nations, Families and Donors are more likely to donate to this existential crisis than they are to say, a more abstract concept such as growing the game!
To ensure equitable distributions (which is more a matter of perception than actual concern), the distributions would be determined by representatives of donors, players, club owners, nations, etc… Again it is important to re-direct some capital while awaiting accretion of funds and interest could be recruited for immediate needs.
Also Players, Pros, Club Owners in nations/societies with economic safety nets might be able to wait a little longer for funds than those in nations without such economic safety nets.
All this needs a brief but detailed discussion before actual implementation. However, emergency funds could be released immediately.
This is a fascinating idea and deserves further debate.
It would be interesting to see if any individual or group steps forward and offers to manage such a project.
Just one point: the much-touted figure of 20 million players is a little over-optimistic.
Thanks Alan – but its not original. A quick look at the History Books would confirm that.
Yes it would be good to see who would be willing to step up. Whoever it is will require a robust set of diplomatic and organizational skills!
I wonder if US Squash managed to include hidden courts and Players around the world e.g. in Hill Stations in India left over from the Raj? They might not make dent on the numbers compiled – just athought.
Ferez, you’re an optimist!
My sense is the only way we get out of this mess is if we can instantly test all players entering a facility.
I think you meant Richard – he was the author.
As he was the author, I think that you meant to address this to Richard.
But I’ll use it as an opportunity to give you some information.
But testing will not reveal transmission of the virus on on clothes, etc..Or the virus picked up by contact with hard surfaces and transmitted before it elicits an immune response or infection detected with tests. I think that the virus is viable as an infectious particle for at least 24 hours. Many different forms of contact on hard surfaces, door handles etc.. can occur.
So the only real out is for at least 60% of the Global Population to either become infected and develop antibodies or to be immunized with a vaccine.
A report released yesterday from the University of Minnesota estimated that this would take a minimum of 2 years!
Ferez I don’t see the donation program happening. My sense is squash players are tight with their money unless an urban program is involved.
You might well be right. But it should be voted on by the Leadership in the Squash community. Even if 50% of the Squash Community by that it means, Players, Coaches, Clubs, Teams, Families and Friends appreciated that we have far greater resources as a whole than the sum of our parts (members) this would be progress. Correspondingly, the greater the participation shrinks the necessary donation per participant without diminishing the sum into insignificance.
It would amplify and make available finances and so resources which would stabilize the community considerably in a post COVID-19 world.
After all at the end of WWII, the United States was preoccupied with losses of families and rebuilding. To put it mildly it was strapped for cash. There were those who were inward looking. Yet General and Secretary of State George Marshall and President Harry Truman understood the vital importance of the Marshall Plan to rebuilding a Free and Strong Europe. They led the recovery!
I am not convinced that this is the option of choice – but it certainly merits informed discussion!
Ferez in my view the afflicted group that you mention should seek another line of work for the time being, since it’s questionable whether squash will return as we know it.
You may be absolutely correct – certainly in that nothing, let alone Squash, will bear resemblance to the Pre-Pandemic World.
However, my admittedly limited understanding of the rationale of such things as insurance and pension funds allows for creating the specified safety net for Squash Players. Namely the costs and burdens of a few accidents and job losses are borne by the majority of Insured who are safe if not prospering. Eventually contributions from these ‘many’ pull the ‘few’ at risk to safety.
In this case the shared resources of ‘the many’ in the international community deposited in an escrow fund, would far exceed the individual personal or national resources of ‘the few’. As a consequence donations themselves, though commensurate with socioeconomic status, also would not have to be unaffordable.
Of course the ‘devil is in the details!’ It may already be too late to start. But in all fairness, all this will have to be worked out by sociopolitically and socioeconomically progressive Economists, Financiers, Bankers and Insurers. Preferably those who have an affinity for Squash!