Coronavirus caught the entire world off guard, including our skydiving community. Most of us have not been skydiving at all since it hit our country or state. The government and the media are sharing lots of good habits to develop to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and sound. However, what should our skydiving community do when we are allowed to jump again? How does the Covid-19 restriction affect my drop zone? What safety measures must skydiving drop zones take to avoid spreading the virus? These are just a few questions we all have about what is going to happen after the Coronavirus pandemic. I asked Bruna Bittencourt, a Scientist and current Ph.D. candidate in Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapies at Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, to explain better our situation.
Please, share this article with your drop zone owner and skydiving friends. It’s essential to know the best safety practices and be ready for resuming our regular skydiving activities. It’s part of a good load organizer to keep people safe on the ground and on the sky.
What is Coronavirus or Covid-19
Bruna Bittencourt explains that COVID-19 is a novel respiratory illness that has affected, as of April 29th, more than 1 million people in the US and more than 3.2 million people worldwide (Worldometer). As with any new disease, we are still learning about its mechanisms of spreading, infection, and therapeutics.
The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within ~6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is stable in surfaces or objects (from 3-72h) that have been touched by an infected person. It represents another source of contamination to healthy individuals when taking their contaminated hands to their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
Currently, there are no proven effective treatments or vaccines to protect against COVID-19. It’s likely that it will still take some time for those to become available. Until that happens, we will have to adapt our modus operandi to take everyday preventive actions, such as avoiding close contact with people and washing our hands more frequently.
The description of symptoms for COVID-19 has varied broadly across the world. People can be asymptomatic but still transmit the virus, up to 14 days after the first exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Among the most frequent reported symptoms are, but not limited to: cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, fever, loss of smell or taste, diarrhea, fatigue.
If you have any of these symptoms, STAY AT HOME, rest, and do not put others at risk! As well, you want to be in your optimal health, body and mind to last long in the sport. Come back to the drop zone in the future when you are not displaying symptoms.
People over 50 years old, with/without comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiopathies, or immune-deficiency are at higher risk of infection and have a worse prognosis. For safety, they should also avoid the drop zone for now.
Covid-19 and skydiving safety
Unfortunately, the situation we are today implies safety changes in the drop zone as well. Skydivers learn how to manage and mitigate risk, such as reviewing their emergency procedures before every jump. For as long as COVID-19 is around, new safety rules and reminders will also be part of our routine.
“”When returning to skydive, keep easy and safe. Only try things you are very comfortable doing it. It’s not the best time to need a hospital”. – Mauro Jasmin, +2500 jumps.
The hugs at arrival, after landing and goodbye hugs will have to hold off for a while. Showing that you care for one another during coronavirus time, means practicing social distancing and reducing the number of people circulating simultaneously at the drop zone. An alternation between small groups of skydivers will have to take place. This way, people will have more space to intuitively practice the 6-feet distance. Each skydiver will have to add to their skydiving equipment, a bottle of hand sanitizer, masks, cleaning wipes, or 70% ethanol sprays. Frequently applying hand sanitizer and sanitizing your equipment, door handles, and surfaces will be as important as correctly folding your parachute.
From now on, treat every surface as it has been contaminated. Also, if you’re dealing with anything close to the day end bonfire, remember to choose soap instead of alcohol-based sanitizer. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Stay vigilant.
Briefing and dirt diving
The briefings will be even more important to mentally remind you of what you should not do. Skydiving instructors and load organizers should keep in mind how to minimize contact for safety with one another, during briefings and dirt diving. Therefore, ONE person should explain and visually demonstrate the plan to the group. Using other jump videos are a great way to show what to expect during the jump and avoid helping Coronavirus spreading.
While talking with your mates or walking on common areas, use masks at all times and prioritize 6-feet distance. At this moment, tandem skydiving is not a good idea due to the close proximity between two individuals. Avoid any group performance involving holding hands or touching one another. Finally, all that stuff about flying your slot makes sense now.
Boarding and flying
Skydiving planes are often small spaces and overly packed with people. Bruna Bittencourt recommends minimizing the number of skydivers on the same load, allowing for more space between people. The airplane’s most touched parts have to be sanitized after each load. Also, the pilot [area] should be protected with a plastic glass avoiding contact with any passenger. On taxiway call and boarding the aircraft, wear masks (or a bandana covering your mouth and nose) at all times and stay 6-feet distant from the person in front or behind you. Always manipulate the masks holding the elastic bands and never touch the front or inner side of the mask.
If using a cloth-based mask, wash it with soap and water and let it dry completely before reusing it. Full face helmets are also an alternative option that mimics face shields. Helmets offer protection against viral droplets as long as you keep it closed and sanitize it often. Remember: the outer surface is contaminated; if you touch it, wash your hands before you touch anything else.
Always sanitize items you touch the most, which includes your phone and cameras. These are major sources of contamination, especially when after manipulating them, you touch door handles, seats, or other surfaces as you and others board the plane. While boarding, you can wear gloves to minimize contamination, as long as you don’t touch your face (or others) at any time. Opening the door after 1500ft can help to increase air circulation, and you will be safe as long as you wear face protection. While jumping, avoid opening your mouth or showing your tongue as it may increase the chance of releasing droplets of saliva in the air.
Landing and debriefing
Nice landing, happiness, and smiles are okay! But avoid hugs, hi-fives, and any personal contact. While you are walking back to the drop zone, maintain a 6-feet distance from other people. If available, wear a bandana to cover your mouth and nose until you can have access to clean masks again. Once you are back, wash your hands, face, and sanitize the skydiving gear that is in close contact with you and others. For debriefing, upload, share, and evaluate your videos with your friends using online platforms, avoiding assemblages of people in closed spaces.
The supermarkets are adding tapes on the floor to illustrate where people should stay. Drop zones can copy that and add tape on the ground of the packing area. This will help skydivers to keep a 6-feet distance from each other while packing their parachute. Establish a particular area for employes to pack their skydiving equipment also contribute to their safety and will help running the dropzone smoother.
We all want to skydive, and if you were in the middle of your skydiving course when all this started, I’m sure you are super excited to get back to it. Skydiving centers must remind that they need to avoid too many people in one space at the same time or without the necessary cleaning. It’s recommended that drop zones reduce the number of students per class and the cleaning of common surface areas every time the class is over.
Covid-19 Take-home message
The rule of thumb at the drop zone are the ones that we are already learning to apply in every sphere of our lives:
- Avoid close contact with people, even if they are not sick. Asymptomatics also transmit the disease.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 62% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- If you haven’t cleaned it, treat every surface as contaminated and sanitize it properly with cleaning wipes or 70% alcohol.
As of right now, we should follow WHO and federal guidelines regarding isolation measures. However, we have to be prepared to soon resume back to our normal activities. When that time comes (and it will come), it’s important to remind one another about the importance of setting up preventive measures.
Charles Darwin has once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change” This pandemic has already changed the world we live in, now we have to adapt to it. Stay safe, everyone!
Keep coming back
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1 – CDC – What you need to know about COVID-19. Accessed on: April 18th, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf
2 – Worldometers COVID-19 Pandemic. Accessed on: April 18th, 2020. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
3 – New England Journal of Medicine Correspondence. Doremalen, N., Buschmaker, T., Morris, D., et al. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. Published Online March 17th, 2020. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973
4- JAMA. Sanders JM, Monogue ML, Jodlowski TZ, Cutrell JB. Pharmacologic Treatments for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): A Review. Published online April 13, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.6019
5- Country & Technical Guidance – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Accessed on: April 15th, 2020. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance
6 – CDC – People who need to take extra precautions. Accessed on: April 18th, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/index.html