The Texas A&M football team is set to add a new layer of personal protective equipment to its helmets this season in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
A&M has ordered helmet maker Schutt’s newest invention, the Splash Shield, athletic director Ross Bjork said. The thin piece of pliable plastic can be fastened to the bottom of a football facemask to prevent sweat and saliva from projecting onto other players during the course of play.
Schutt manufactures the helmets used by A&M and reached out to the program several weeks ago for the opportunity to add the extra level of security to its headgear, head equipment manager Matt Watson said.
“Just like everybody in the country, we’re trying to do what we can and brainstorm and figure out ways to really prevent the virus from spreading but also protect our people and ourselves and then get football back on the field,” Watson said.
The Splash Shield is paired with a traditional clear visor on the top portion of the facemask to create a full-sized face covering.
“It’s a good idea,” Brazos County Alternate Health Authority Dr. Seth Sullivan said of the Splash Shield. “Any type of barrier that can be around the mouth and that does not allow secretions to be expelled directly into the area is better than nothing. We can think about a vapor cloud around us, or the secretions that surround us, anytime we’re able to keep those secretions closer to the mouth it decreases that infectiousness. It’s a novel and innovative approach and it follows logic.”
Due to the heavy contact restrictions on athletes currently participating in workouts, A&M’s equipment staff has not had the chance to perform trial runs of the Splash Shield for comfort and visibility, Watson said.
“It’s going to be determined once you actually get a player out in the heat going through a full-fledged football practice to see how this is going to work,” Watson said. “There may be something else that comes out in the middle of all this that actually works better. We’re just trying anything we can to help, and this is the best thing we’ve found so far.”
The clear visor has been used successfully for years, but the bottom portion is new, and questions still remain on if adding that part of the shield will restrict vision and airflow as teams look for a balance between safety and performance.
“I wish I had a better answer of how it’s going to perform on the player side of it, but it really is just to be determined,” Watson said. “This is the best thing that we have right at this moment to try and combat [the coronavirus] and help our players out.”
Face shields were among the guidelines the NCAA issued Thursday for playing through the pandemic. The NCAA also recommended all individuals on the sideline wear masks. According to The Athletic, 50 NCAA Division I football programs have ordered shields.
Bjork said along with the Splash Shields A&M is working to find ways to protect coaches and staff members involved with the return to action.
A&M’s full-time athletic equipment staff, led by Watson, has been back at work for months, since Gov. Greg Abbott allowed 25% of the workforce to return to offices. They have had to deal with delays in the supply chain due to COVID-19 shutdowns around the world, which has affected the arrival of the Aggies’ newest uniforms that are produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, Watson said.
“I know everybody has been really curious about what our new uniform is going to look like,” Watson said. “It’s been a victim of circumstance right now. That’s been the biggest challenge we’ve had.”
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