(by Steve Hopkins)
We are still several weeks away from being allowed to open our club (here in Rhode Island). That said, we have been carefully considering the best ways to safely open and best practices for players who return to the club. This week, two of our Board Members have visited the club and have tried out some of these processes. Obviously the normal advice for any location will apply to us – providing access that allows for social distancing, instituting processes that do not necessitate close contact or congregating in groups, and cleaning surfaces regularly. Here is my feedback on our table tennis specific plans thus far:
FACE COVERINGS – We played in masks. This is currently the rule in Rhode Island – masks, social distancing, limits on the size of groups. Not only is this required, but using the masks limits exposure and narrows the reach of each persons breath/cough/etc. Both of us used a cloth mask – and there are some challenges to note. I normally wear glasses, and as play progressed, the heat from under the mask caused my glasses to fog over. The remedy to that was to pull the mask away from my face – which defeats the purpose. In our second test run, I wore contact lenses and that was much better. I will also note that the masks limit one’s breathing – and it takes some time to establish a pace that takes this into account. Take your time between points.
PERSONAL BALL – We each used our own ball for our serves. When my ball is being used in the point, the other player returns balls to me by kicking or batting it back to me. When my opponent’s ball is being used, the reverse is true. We were able to adapt to this pretty quickly and most of the time if you get to the ball quickly, you can bounce it and return the ball in the air with a bat of the paddle (without changing the pace of play). We also disinfected the balls between points. We used very basic and inexpensive materials. Each of us had an alcohol-soaked sponge resting on a paper plate on our side of the table. When it was your opponent’s serve, your ball rested on the sponge. When it was time to switch service, we both went to the plates and dropped off/picked up the ball. As one picks up the ball it is easy to roll it in the sponge making it damp – and the isopropyl alcohol dries almost immediately. I tested both alcohol and hydrogen peroxide on a sponge at home – and both do a good job of cleaning the ball over time – and neither damaged the balls even with regular use. In our test at the club, dampening the balls regularly had no effect on our play. There is added benefit in that touching the sponge and the ball leaves one’s hand damp with disinfecting alcohol for a moment as well.
PERSONAL SPACE – We did not switch table sides between games. From the time that we entered the court until the time that we left, we each had our own table side. This should limit the table as a means of exposure. If we clean the tables between matches, this will further protect our players. To take that a step further, if we wipe not just the table surface but also the floor immediately behind the table where we normally stand, this will provide an additional layer of protection.
CREATING PROTECTED SPACE – Players should wear masks and disinfect their shoes when they enter the building. Before entering the playing area and approaching a table, some of these steps should be repeated. Clean the bottom of your shoes and then apply hand sanitizer to your hands. If the playing space has been cleaned before you enter it – and if your shoes are clean and your hands are clean and you have a mask on – then your playing space should be relatively secure.
MISC RISKS – There are no absolutes – but simple precautions will go a long way towards limiting exposure. Keep in mind that most paddles are tacky surfaces and that they are likely to attract particles of COVID-19 just like they attract dust. Expect that any surface that could be dirty is dirty – and clean it often. This goes for clothing and towels and wrist bands and knee braces and the bottom of your bag – everything you bring into the club should be cleaned regularly (and in an ideal world, you’ll clean many of these items on the way into the club to protect club members and clean them again on your way into your home to protect your family). It may be wise to carry your own supply of hand sanitizer or alcohol with you.
VISUAL AID – Below is a video of a match played while implementing these procedures. Note the visits to change balls, the rubbing of the ball to dry it on the way back to the table, and that we did our best not to pick up the other player’s service ball.