by Vid Matišić
The President of the Medical Commission of the Croatian Football Federation, Professor Dragan Primorac, M.D., Ph.D. alongside his colleagues and the team of doctors from St. Catherine Specialty Hospital developed a model of testing for COVID-19 that includes molecular RT-qPCR tests and serologic tests that determine the presence of IgA and IgG antibodies specific for SARS-CoV-2.
Given the so-called latency period (the period from contact with the virus to the production of new viral particles), during which it is possible to obtain “false-negative results”, the model contains two consecutive tests in a five day interval. Specifically, this analysis proves the presence of viral (N, E, RdRP) genes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
In addition to molecular results for the presence of the virus in the players, the status of IgG antibodies is important because it confirms that the person has overcome the disease and is immune to it.
A lot of effort has been put in by the Croatian Football Federation Medical Commission, the Institute for Public Health “Dr. Andrija Štampar” and St. Catherine Specialty Hospital to test 350 players and staff members from all the football clubs playing in the Croatian First League. It is important to note that all of the test subjects were healthy at the time of testing and didn’t report a history of respiratory illness in the time of the pandemic.
The testing determined no active cases of COVID-19 among the players and the staff members. However, 7 of the tested players had positive IgG antibodies, meaning they were exposed to the virus but didn’t develop any symptoms.
These encouraging results were the pivotal point for the continuation of the football season in Croatia and a strong indicator that no harm will be done by returning to normal activities. The first matches started with the Croatian Cup on May 30th, which is coincidentally Statehood Day in Croatia. The matches are currently played without spectators, but the latest decision from the National Institute for Public Health allowed for the return of the spectators to the stadiums on June 15th.
We firmly believe that the crucial factor for results this positive were the preventive recommendations given by The Croatian Football Federation Medical Commission that included:
- Trainings that were performed outdoors.
- No more than 5 players participated in training sessions at the same time, with the personal distance of at least 5 meters (16.4 feet) separating the players.
- The number of coaches in training sessions kept to a minimum.
- Apart from the coaches only a physio or a team doctor were present in the session.
- Protective equipment was mandatory for the medical team when they were getting in close contact to a player.
- Protective equipment includes: face masks (N95, FFP2 or FFP3), protective gloves and face shields.
- Original, sealed plastic water bottles were exclusively used and those were properly discarded after training. Those bottles were not shared between players.
- Players and coaches came to the training grounds alone, in their own cars, wearing appropriate clothes.
- Changing and shower rooms were not available for the athletes nor coaches.
- After the training session both players and coaches went to their homes using the same transport
they came with.
All the measures were done orderly whilst respecting the social distancing measures. The Croatian model was proposed to FIFA and UEFA in order to secure a safe return to international football.
Vid Matišić is a medical doctor currently working in St. Catherine Specialty hospital. He was
actively involved in the development of the Croatian model described in the text. In his work he had
published research articles in most significant indexed journals and scientific bases.