‘Science Says’ Sunday – COVID-19 Little League Resumption Guidance for 2020

Photo credit: Dr. Parisa Dudley

One of my favorite things to do all year is watch my boys play rec little league baseball. They love it, they’re good at it, they have fun, and overall it’s a great way to get some physical activity and socialization in.

A lot changed when COVID-19 became a worry in our lives five months ago. One of the thing that changed the most for my kids – and other kids across the US – was that they were unable to play baseball for some time. While little league baseball did eventually resume, we opted out for the remaining of the season this summer. The main reason: I wanted to see what safety measures were going to be put into place, considering local numbers.

As we contemplate a return this fall, I wondered, what are the recommendations for a return to play? While the NCAA has issued guidance for collegiate sports, less was known about what recreational leagues should do to safely resume play. Several teams across the US reported cases among kids and coaches, both in rec leagues of all ages (eg, here, here, and here to list a few) and in collegiate sports. Unfortunately, no teams at the recreational level are implementing sentinel testing, so teams have to rely on self-report of covid-positive status and or symptoms. We know now that kids of all ages are susceptible to covid, but can also transmit it, but most importantly, that asymptomatic spread is a major concern for COVID-19.

All summer I looked for guidance, only to find very limited information about what should and should not happen upon resumption to play. Luckily, a league from Mercer Island (MI) in Washington State came up with some guidance that has since been adapted by the national Little League organization. Two main documents you should read (and share with your local leagues) are:

Best Practices for Creating a Local Little League® Social Distancing Plan

and

Mercer Island Little League Social Distancing Plan

Among the main points:

  • Regular cleaning and disinfecting of shared equipment and surfaces
  • Spreading out of schedules for practices and games (to minimize crowding and overlapping teams/individuals at one time)
  • Limiting spectator attendance (streaming games or keeping up with games via GameChanger recommended)
    • All spectators should follow best social distancing practices — stay six feet away from individuals outside their household; wear a cloth face covering; avoid direct hand or other contact with players/managers/coaches during play.
    • Local Leagues may choose to minimize the exposure risk to spectators by limiting attendance to only essential volunteers and limited family members.
    • Spectators should bring their own seating or portable chairs when possible
  • Bathrooms: “one-in-one-out” bathroom policy (with regular disinfecting/cleaning in between uses)
  • No concession stands; families encouraged to provide their own food/drink
  • Players should not use the dugout unless 6′ distancing between players inside the dugout is possible
  • Meetings at the plate should be eliminated OR 6′ distancing should be implemented, with masks on
  • Practices should be limited to the managers/coaches and players
  • Press boxes should not be utilized
  • No handshakes at end of game; no huddling at culmination of game
  • IF dugouts are used: players should wear cloth face coverings when in close contact areas and in places where recommended social distancing is challenging or not feasible, such as in dugouts

We all want life to return to normal. Recreational sports brings communities together, but can also be a source of infection if people are not careful. Proper safety regulations are therefore necessary to avoid further spread of COVID-19, especially in states where case numbers remain high. To engage in activities like outdoor sports like little league baseball while implementing harm reduction strategies, for example, you must:

  1. Avoid crowds: doable with crowd control regulations.

2. Avoid close contact: doable with physical distancing.

3. Avoid closed spaces: sports is outdoors, but you have to worry about and try to avoid bathrooms, carpools, press boxes, dugouts (especially non-well ventilated ones), indoor dining after sports, and concession stands (if any are indoors, but especially for workers).

4. Wash your hands frequently: Hard to do in park bathrooms safely, so consider having hand sanitizer available.

5. Wear your mask: Especially when 6′ distance between players/spectators/coaches, etc cannot be maintained.

6. Watch your distance: Physical distancing between all individuals at the park is essential, especially between people who are not from the same household.

Science Says Sunday – Reading and the brain

I started reading again…for fun! I forgot how amazing it feels to read a book and what it does to my vocabulary – both spoken and written – when I do. It occured to me that as many of us prepare to face an uncertain fall with school for our kids, one thing is for sure: Reading has amazing benefits for both adults and kids alike. So let’s see what the science says.

First and foremost, evidence from scientific studies suggest that there is a positive association between reading and our brain activity. Research also suggests that

  1. Sharing books together can help children’s language development and help with their reading skills.
  2. There is evidence of enhanced connectivity in the brain after reading, as evidenced by MRI.
  3. Reading involves several brain functions, eg visual and auditory processes, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension.
  4. Reading every day can slow down late-life cognitive decline and keeps the brains healthier.

So in light of the fact that this fall is certain to require more episodes of social and physical distancing, requiring more time with our household members, consider picking up a book! Reading to the kids is one way to help yourself and help them. Don’t have kids? Read for fun here and there, even if you don’t have the stamina to read an entire book cover to cover in a matter of days.

I will tell you that my recent read was phenomenal! Untamed was such a great book. The ideas aren’t necessary novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed Glennon Doyle’s take on so many of the struggles we each face in our daily lives.

For the kids, I picked up The Diary of a Young Girl – by Anne Frank, and the entire Harry Potter series. I plan to read these to them during “reading time” the upcoming months.

A number of IGers recommened books I should read next. Perhaps you will find a good title for yourself among these!

  1. American Dirt
  2. Women who run with wolves
  3. The Great Believers
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
  5. The Beauty in Breaking
  6. Invisible Woman by Caroline Criado-Perez
  7. In the time of Butterflies
  8. Next Year in Havana
  9. Where the Crawdads Sing
  10. The Vanishing Half
  11. The Friend Zone
  12. The City We Became
  13. The Book of Unknown Americans
  14. Waris Dirie’s Life Story
  15. Defending Jacob Vox
  16. My Dark Vanessa
  17. Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
  18. Finding Chika
  19. The Body Keeps Score
  20. Made to Stick
  21. Separated
  22. Fair Play
  23. Furious Hours
  24. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
  25. Evicted
  26. Educated
  27. Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club List
  28. Oprah’s Book Club List
  29. Barack Obama’s Book List

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3868356/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25628041/

Robert S. Wilson PhD, Patricia A. Boyle PhD, Lei Yu, PhD, et al: “Life-span Cognitive Activity, Neuropathologic Burden, and Cognitive Aging.” Neurology, Vol. 81. 2013.

Prashanthi Vemuri, PhD, Elizabeth C. Mormino, PhD: “Cognitive Stimulating Activities to Keep Dementia at Bay.” Neurology, Vol 81. 2013

Science Says Sunday – Probiotics

Instagram, like Facebook, will often remind you of the pictures you posted on your feed years ago. This one is from 2014 when I attended the See Jane Write bloggers conference organized by the one and only Javacia Harris Bowser. What a fun time in blogging that was! I was a newbie, talking all things sartorial and very much still finding my footing in academia.

2014 is when I started my faculty position, and hadn’t yet found the confidence to share all things science. I felt more comfortable talking about fashion and lifestyle, how they related to life in academia, and some about my journey as a woman and person of color in academia as well.

I’m glad that this blog’s focus has evolved and I’m now talking about public health and health topics generally, with sprinkles of fashion and lifestyle here and there. 🙂

Today, I’m covering probiotics because I was recently introduced to the scientific work of Dr. Patricia Hibberd, Infectious Disease specialist and Chair of Global Health at Boston University. Together with information I’ve read, here are some points that you should consider if you are or want to take probiotics. Some, even I found surprising!

  • Is there convincing evidence that commercially available probiotics have been found to be beneficial to
    • treat or prevent the diarrhea after taking antibiotics?
      • No
    • decrease allergies?
      • No
    • treat irritable bowel syndrome
      • No
    • improve gut health in babies (via baby food and baby formula?)
      • No
  • Is this better than that?
    • Cold probiotics vs room temp
      • yes; and you’re not consuming good bacteria just because you’re eating yogurt. All yogurts with live bacteria contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, but some manufacturers add other probiotic bacteria after pasteurization, such as L. acidophilusL. bulgaricusL. rhamnosus and L. casei.
    • Probiotics vs medication
      • probably not. There is no evidence that taking a probiotic over medication for any illness is proven more effective than the medication intended to treat the problem.
    • Prebiotics vs probiotics
      • apparently not mutually exclusive. In order for probiotics to be most effective, you need to have good representation of prebiotics in your daily nutrition. What does that mean?
        • “Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes.”

Even I, a scientist, was convinced that taking probiotics while taking antibiotics would help prevent diarrhea. Wow!

Interestingly, two other scientists in the field – Eran Elinav and Eran Segal found at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science – carefully studied the effects of probiotics on the gut and collected samples from a small group of volunteers. What did they find:

Strikingly, in about half the people, the probiotics went in and went right back out. In the other half, they did appear to stay in the gut:

“Although all of our probiotic-consuming volunteers showed probiotics in their stool, only some of them showed them in their gut, which is where they need to be,” says Segal. “If some people resist and only some people permit them, the benefits of the standard probiotics we all take can’t be as universal as we once thought. These results highlight the role of the gut microbiome in driving very specific clinical differences between people.”

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180906141640.htm

Their second study “questioned whether patients should be taking probiotics to counter the effects of antibiotics, as they are often told to do in order to repopulate the gut microbiota after it’s cleared by antibiotic treatment. “

“Contrary to the current dogma that probiotics are harmless and benefit everyone, these results reveal a new potential adverse side effect of probiotic use with antibiotics that might even bring long-term consequences,” Elinav says. “In contrast, replenishing the gut with one’s own microbes is a personalized mother-nature-designed treatment that led to a full reversal of the antibiotics’ effects.”

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180906141640.htm

So, what does this mean?

Well, I think it means you’re probably better off eating a healthy diet and saving that money you’re spending on off-the-shelf probiotics, on something else! Sure, there seems to be no harm in consuming yogurt with live cultures, for example. But there is certainly greater benefit to eating – as my registered dietician colleague, Dr. Amanda Willig, says – other gut-health foods like “beans, oatmeal, and vegetables”.

Until we have better studies and better understand the gut biota, continue to learn about the products being thrown your way, but for now save that extra money for a rainy day.

References:

  1. Niv Zmora, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Jotham Suez, Uria Mor, Mally Dori-Bachash, Stavros Bashiardes, Eran Kotler, Maya Zur, Dana Regev-Lehavi, Rotem Ben-Zeev Brik, Sara Federici, Yotam Cohen, Raquel Linevsky, Daphna Rothschild, Andreas E. Moor, Shani Ben-Moshe, Alon Harmelin, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nitsan Maharshak, Oren Shibolet, Hagit Shapiro, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Itai Sharon, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Personalized Gut Mucosal Colonization Resistance to Empiric Probiotics Is Associated with Unique Host and Microbiome FeaturesCell, 2018; 174 (6): 1388 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.041
  2. Jotham Suez, Niv Zmora, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Uria Mor, Mally Dori-Bachash, Stavros Bashiardes, Maya Zur, Dana Regev-Lehavi, Rotem Ben-Zeev Brik, Sara Federici, Max Horn, Yotam Cohen, Andreas E. Moor, David Zeevi, Tal Korem, Eran Kotler, Alon Harmelin, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nitsan Maharshak, Oren Shibolet, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Hagit Shapiro, Itai Sharon, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMTCell, 2018; 174 (6): 1406 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.047