Nearing two full years of the world in the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions about the virus continue to change. Just like how the virus continues to affect our social lives, jobs, education and more, it played a big role in athletics.
Throughout 2021, COVID-19 was an issue for MMA. Countless fighters tested positive for the virus, sidelining them from the competition and putting them at risk of severe sickness.
All signs are showing that the global fight against the pandemic has much more to go as we head into the new year. In an attempt to understand how this battle currently factors into MMA, we spoke with Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, who has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Saskatchewan.
Dr. Kindrachuk answered questions on a wide variety of issues relating to COVID-19. This included discussing how to train safer in the pandemic, what we know about “long COVID,” and more about what the recent Omicron variant might mean for us.
Where Do We Stand Currently?
There are still a lot of unknowns about the recently emerging Omicron variant of COVID-19. Cases are back on the rise in North America, and a push to get people a third dose of a vaccine is on.
There are a few priority concerns for Dr. Kindrachuk when it comes to dealing with the virus:
“Where we are, whether or not we’re closer to the end [of the pandemic] or [if] we’re still in the early stages, we can’t answer that question. Really, it’s going to be a question of when we can get control of transmission, when we can get more people vaccinated across the globe, particularly in low and middle-income areas, and what is the virus going to do in that timeframe. But we’re in a different place than we were, you know, a year ago.”
Dr. Kindrachuk says people need to remain cautious about what the Omicron variant may bring. While preliminary research indicates it could spread more than previous variants but be less severe, he claims we need to take into account how this could still risk overloading the healthcare system.
“Certainly, if it’s less virulent, that’s great. But we also have to appreciate that doesn’t mean that it’s now innocuous and everybody is fine. If it moves out to a number of people, even with a lower severity or lower virulence, you still expect that there are going to be some severe cases. And if you hit enough people, that’s going to ultimately result in people that are going to need admission, and likely are going to put stress on the healthcare system.”
How To Train Safer Amid The Pandemic
This past year saw athletes frequently get called upon to compete amid the pandemic. This meant that fighters trained and worked towards competing and in the process risked contracting COVID-19.
For fighters, it is unrealistic to expect them to prepare for a fight without training. Even more so, it is unfair for people who make a living off athletics to simply not compete during the pandemic. So, at this stage what are the best ways to reduce the risk of getting the virus during the pandemic?
Dr. Kindrachuk offered a variety of ideas that cannot guarantee safety but can certainly lower risk. A big part of the equation was getting vaccinated – taking the two initial shots and going for the third booster when needed.
Dr. Kindrachuk’s message to those that have not been vaccinated is that the numbers across the world have overwhelmingly shown how safe the shot is to take.
“We’ve now seen billions of doses, and the vaccines unequivocally have been shown to be extremely, extremely safe [and] certainly more safe than getting the disease.”
Along with vaccination, three other big factors mentioned are taking tests, wearing masks and being careful about how you navigate your daily life.
Rapid tests for COVID-19 allow people to get near-instant results if they are spreading the virus. This is quicker than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which can take days.
While these tests only account for if someone is spreading the virus at that moment, Dr. Kindrachuk described how they can be utilized before training sessions to check the status of those involved.
Dr. Kindrachuk also advises fighters to be careful about how they protect themselves in day-to-day life: “What are you doing outside of your training to be precautious?”
How Can ‘Long COVID’ Hurt You? Dr. Kindrachuk Says We Don’t Know Yet
For many fighters, preventing themselves from ever contracting the virus is no longer an option. Instead, many worry about how their bout with COVID-19 might hurt their performance as a fighter.
The long-term effects of dealing with the virus, also known as “long COVID,” is something experts continue to wonder about. While symptoms continue to be reported, there’s no definitive answer to what people are dealing with.
“There is no one single clinical manifestation that we see for this. It’s actually a variety of different things that we are beginning to understand,” said Dr. Kindrachuk. “Whether it’s long-term organ damage, or respiratory damage, long-term fatigue, potential neurological functions, and certainly that there’ll be [the] idea of brain fog.”
Answers will start to appear about “long COVID” sometime in the future, but for now, it’s hard to tell. Dr. Kindrachuk said the data available to experts currently is the sample size for “a very short period of time” to study such an issue.
The Situation Remains ‘Fluid’
As mentioned before, roadblocks when dealing with COVID-19 continue to change.
In an early 2021 interview with Dr. Kindrachuk, he spoke about a world where MMA fighters trained and competed while nearly all of the world did not have access to COVID-19 vaccines yet. Fast-forward a year, discussions around variants, shots and even booster shots are newer components being discussed.
Dr. Kindrachuk stressed that the situation with the virus will continue to change and that new information will come out as time goes by. This is specifically the case with the Omicron variant, which was first detected roughly a month ago.
“The public health folks are learning on a moment by moment basis, about what Omicron is, and are making decisions, really, to preserve the livelihoods of everybody, not just of specific individuals,” he said. “And I think we got to appreciate this is going to take a little bit of time for us to figure out, but it’s not going to be forever.”