Everyone is itching to train again, and for many jiu-jitsu school owners opening up is a matter of financial survival.
But just to make things even more complicated, as we learn more about this virus it means that the science, policy and best practice need to keep on evolving
That’s why I talked to Dr Chris Moriarty who has published a 6 phase process for reopening schools and getting back to training during the coronavirus pandemic.
He’s a sports medicine doctor with a strong interest in coronavirus and COVID-19 who has done countless hours of research and thinking about the reopening process. But he also understands the unique challenges presented by jiu-jitsu because he’s a BJJ black belt and a former active competitor.
Over the past few months we’ve sat down three times to review and revise his suggested steps and guidelines for safely re-opening jiu-jitsu clubs based on the reopening guidelines released by the Trump administration (scroll down for that conversation, and a bit further down for his guidelines in written form).
Then at intervals throughout the summer we have updated these guidelines as new information became available.
Ultimately we have a choice about how we reopen our gyms.
If we do it irresponsibly and cause a localized outbreak then that would be terrible for the sport, possibly causing a backlash that would shut down more gyms for much longer.
The best way to get back to normal as fast as possible is by demonstrating that we’re being responsible and taking every possible safety precaution.
Even if you believe the coronavirus threat is mostly overblown there are still good reasons to listen to the conversation and look at the guidelines below. Here are two good reasons why…
- Depending on your jurisdiction you may need to have precautions like these in place in order to open up legally and avoid fines or other penalties
- If you don’t do something to reassure your students then a significant number will either a) avoid training or b) go to the other club down the road where they are taking precautions.
How to Open Up Jiu-Jitsu Schools Again Safely and Comply with Federal Guidelines, The Podcast
Here are my two in-depth conversations with Dr Chris Moriarty as Youtube videos.
Here is the original video we filmed. It provides excellent background information but please be aware that Dr Moriarty has made several large updates to the guidelines, including those in the next video after this one…
On September 10th, 2020 we updated the guidelines again, primarily with a more extensive use of training pods and training cohorts…
On February 3rd, 2021 Dr Moriarty and I got together to discuss the implications of the covid vaccines and virus variants for training BJJ and other martial arts
You can also listen to my conversations with Dr Moriarty as episode 268, 273, 283, and 311 of my show – The Strenuous Life Podcast – on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and Google Play. Please note that the second conversation wasn’t filmed, and is only available in audio form.
Here are the audio-only versions of those conversations if you just want to leave this page open and stream the audio…
Conversation 1: An overview of the 6 phases of reopening BJJ academies during Covid
Conversation 2: Updates and protocol clarifications
Conversation 3: Training pods and training cohorts
Conversation 4: The Vaccines and BJJ Variants
Or you can use the podcast player built into The Grapplearts BJJ Master App which you can download for free for iPhone and iPad in the Apple App Store here or for Android devices in the Google Play Store here.
Guidelines for Opening Up Jiu-Jitsu Again During COVID-19
Stephan’s note: these guidelines were first published on Chris’s Facebook page, and with his permission I have taken the liberty of reposting them here. I have made some small formatting changes and added titles to some of the phases.
May 18, 2020 Update: Added items include 1) Option for cohabitating partner training during phase 2 in addition to solo drills, 2) Detail about mat demarcation (including the aisle concept). 3) Single partner training for the duration of phase 3 (added because some academies will not be able to comply with phase 2-3 for meaningful length of time).
Aug 20, 2020 Update: Added options for fixed partner training in each phase, as well as general guidelines for opening academies.
Sept 10, 2020 Update: Training pods and training cohorts added, monogamous training partner training moved into earlier stages to allow more flexibility for academies and students. General principles for all phases of training were also added.
Feb 3, 2020 Update: Added a video and audio podcast talking about the implications of vaccines and viral variants for training.
What has compelled us to share these now are recent concerning posts from academy owners. These owners have decided to open up their academies without a specific strategy for mitigating risk.
We believe teachers are doing this in large part because they are frustrated about not being given a coherent strategy for reopening from the same health professionals that recommended that they shut down in the first place.
This sentiment is totally understandable. However, we strongly believe that reopening should not be approached in an all or nothing manner.
We will be updating these as new information becomes available and posting them on my page. If you feel that these are informative, please share them.
General Principles for all Phases of Training
There are several principles that make sense during this pandemic to lower the risk that you, your students, and (perhaps most importantly) the people they come in contact with remain safe.
1, Restrict access to changing/locker room to one person at a time
This is self explanatory
2, Mandate handwashing/sanitizing prior to stepping onto the mat after removing shoes
This will require you obtain and regularly refill hand sanitisation stations
3, Shorten class lengths: preferably no longer than 30-40 minutes
This minimises the total time of exposure and allows for greater numbers of smaller groups to train, while still giving people a chance to train jiu-jitsu.
4, Divide classes into every-other-day training cohorts to limit and contain potential exposures to COVID-19
The odds of having a COVID-19 super-spreader event go up as group size increases. By making the group sizes smaller and preventing cross-contamination between groups you limit the chance that one sick student gives it to ALL the students.
Depending upon your normal class sizes, this concept may or may not apply to your academy.
Examples: For academies with larger classes it may make sense to split each of the typical morning, afternoon and evening classes into 2 cohorts (large groups) with each training every other day. This way everybody gets to train, just not all at once, or with members of the opposite group. For example:
- Let’s say an academy has a normal early morning (i.e. 7 A.M.) class size of 20 students and that the maximum number of training pairs that can be accommodated on the available mat space with the mat demarcation restrictions (detailed below) is 15. You would divide the 20 students into 2 groups, A and B. Group A would train on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Group B would train Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
- Academies not typically offering early morning or evening classes on the Saturdays: One solution to this might be to offer 3-hour-long classes instead of one on Saturday (as most academies typically offer at least one Saturday late morning/early afternoon class)
- Academies with mat space limitations requiring creation of more than 2 cohorts, for example into groups A, B, C and D. The normal early morning class runs from 7 A.M. to 8 A.M. It would now run as follows: M/W/F: Group A trains from 6:40 to 7:20 and Group B trains from 7:30 to 8:10. T/Th/Sat: Group C trains from 6:40 to 7:20 and Group D trains from 7:30 to 8:10.
5, Members and staff wear masks at all times, except for when members are within their demarcated mat spaces.
Self explantory. Surgical masks and face coverings may only give limited protection to the person wearing them but have been proven to protect other people. Why this is still contentious we have no idea.
6, Keep detailed class attendance records, including who trained together
If someone does end up getting sick then these records will help you contact people who might have been exposed and notify them that they should self isolate and get tested.
7, Temperatures, symptoms, and social history should be checked for every member upon entering the academy
Checking student temperatures before they enter the academy is a useful precaution. It may not catch asymptomatic and presymptomatic students, but it may catch people who are beginning to show symptoms.
- A temporal or oral thermometer may be used
- Normal temperature will be defined as < 37.6 °C (< 99.3 °F)
- Note that fever is normally defined as a temperature > 38 °C (< 100.4 °F). However, it seems logical to set the threshold for Brazilian jiu jitsu training lower given that normal body temperature changes throughout the day, and a forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.2
Each student should be asked if they have had any of the following COVID-19 symptoms within the last 14 days including:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
SOCIAL HISTORY SCREEN
Has had no known contacts with anyone testing positive for COVID-19 within the past 14 days (this includes all healthcare workers participating in the care of COVID-19 patients) OR has had a negative COVID-19 test obtained between 5-8 days following contact with an infected person if contact with said person was within the previous 14 days.
- **The reason for the specific time frame for obtaining COVID-19 PCR testing is that false negative results from this test are significantly more likely when the test is performed on days 1-4 and beyond day 8 following exposure**
Has complied with the following social distancing guidelines for the last 14 days:
- Wearing a mask (covering the face and nose) in public at all times when possible OR maintaining at least 6 feet of physical separation from others in public when wearing a mask is not possible
- Avoiding “large and small gatherings in private places and public spaces, such a friend’s house, parks, restaurants, shops, or any other place”
Is not a member of a vulnerable population and does not live with a member of the population uniquely vulnerable to COVID-197 including:
- People 65 years and older
- People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:
- People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
- People who have serious heart conditions
- People who are immunocompromised
- People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
- People with diabetes
- People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
- People with liver disease”7
8, Assess the Risk of Group Gatherings in Your County
Please refer to the GA-Tech COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool to determine what degree of risk you believe is reasonable for members training at your academy. This tool allows you to estimate the chance that at least one person present at a gathering of specific sizes (10, 25, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 5000) is infected with COVID-19.
While there are currently no specific federal guidelines recommending limiting gatherings based upon local case data, we believe that a reasonable upper limit for risk is ≤ 25% (i.e. if the tool calculates the risk that at least one person in a group of 25 people within one or more of the counties within which academy members live is 30%, you should recommend that your members do not gather in groups larger than 10 people).
This tool has fixed group size levels for which risk can currently be calculated. It is likely that there will be more group size options available over the next few weeks as more and more people start using it**
9, Fixed Partner Training
In a normal jiu-jitsu class everyone pretty much trains with everyone. During a highly infectious pandemic we need to accept the idea that, at times, we can only train with a very small circle of people.
So you might divide your students up into 2 cohorts who train on alternate days. In any given class you only have one cohort attending, but then within that cohorts you have smaller fixed partner groups consisting of people who only train with each other.
This monogamous training arrangement should last for the duration of the pandemic, and the sizes of the monogamous training pods vary by which phase of reopening you’re at (more info below).
The 6 Phases of Training
As the number of COVID-19 cases go up and down in an area the relative risk to you, your students, and the people they come in contact with also goes up and down.
Therefore a one-size-fits all approach will not work. The precautions you take (especially class and fixed partner training pod size) must change depending on the danger in your local jurisdiction.
The guidelines and phases below are based upon United States Government 3-phase plan for reopening America.
These guidelines are just that. Guidelines. They are not intended to provide academy owners a specific strategy for reopening. We am not telling anyone what to do; we are just telling you what we think is the safest way to get the greatest number of people back on the mat as quickly as possible.
When Can You Move From One Phase to Another?
There are 6 phases, with phase 1 being the most restrictive and phase 6 being the most open. Depending on what happens in your jurisdiction you can either progress (i.e. move from more locked down stages to more open stages) or regress (go back to a more locked down stage.
- Progression from one phase to the next requires a 14-day trend of decreasing new COVID-19 cases (assuming that the amount of total tests being done hasn’t changed significantly) AND/OR there has been a decrease in the percentage of positive tests if the amount of testing has changed.
- Regression to a previous phase should happen if the 14 day trend shows increasing new COVID-19 cases (assuming that the amount of total tests being done hasn’t changed significantly) AND/OR there has been a increase in the percentage of positive tests if the amount of overall testing has changed.
These guidelines don’t rely on antibody testing because of two factors…
- Currently the FDA has only approved a handful of antibody tests as being reliable out of the 100+ antibody tests available on the market today,
- We don’t yet have enough information about how accurate these tests are for asymptomatic patients. We can only trust them if you were previously sick AND had your COVID-19 status confirmed with a PCR test.
The take home message here is that a positive antibody test shouldn’t currently be seen as a passport to train outside of the phased system described below. Nor should a positive antibody test be used as proof that the person is safe from becoming infected with the virus.
Phase 1 (The Most Restrictive Phase)
During phase 1 the students can train with a single fixed partner training with each 2-person group being allotted a 12’x12′ area (144 square feet) of clearly demarcated mat space. Between each 144-square-foot space should be aisles for mat ingress and egress that are at least 3-feet wide.
Instructor led solo drill, heavy bag drill, and/or grappling drill classes are also a possibility during Phase 1
Phase 2 (groups with 3 people)
You can move from phase 1 to phase 2 if your jurisdiction has had 14 days of declining case numbers or declining percentages of positive tests as detailed above. You can also move from phase 3 back to phase 2 if there has been a flareup in local covid conditions using the same guidelines.
During phase 2 groups of 3 fixed training partners are allowed to train together using the same 12’x12′ area with 3′ aisles described in phase 1
Phase 3 (groups with 4 people)
You can move from phase 2 to phase 3 if your jurisdiction has had 14 additional days of declining case numbers or declining percentages of positive tests as detailed above. You can also move from phase 4 back to phase 3 if there has been a flareup in local covid conditions using the same guidelines.
In phase 3 groups of 4 fixed training partners are allowed to train together with each 4-person group being allotted 200 square feet of clearly demarcated mat space.
This increase will allow the spaces to be divided in half so that 2 pairs can train simultaneously without violating other groups’ spaces. 3 feet of aisle spacing separating the group spaces should still be maintained.
Phase 4 (return to limited group training IF fast and abundant testing is available.
Phase 4 is an addendum specifically addressing the unique risk imposed by the very high levels of physical contact in Brazilian jiu jitsu.
You can move 3 to phase 4 IF your students can easily get tested for Covid for any reason AND get their results back within 48 hours in your jurisdiction. Note that at present the only reliable test is called Real Time – Polymerase Chain Reaction, or COVID-19 RT-PCR for short.
And you can go backwards from phase 5 to phase 4 if there has been an uptick local covid cases over the last 14 days, or increase in the percentage of positive tests (as detailed above).
In phase 4 the students may return to regular group training with the number of students and instructors so long as there is an average of 100 square feet for each person on the mat.
- Example: Let’s say that the total mat space at an academy is 2000 square feet. This would allow for 20 persons on the mat (2000 square feet / 100 square feet per person)
We recommend that this group class become available as an option IN ADDITION to, NOT INSTEAD OF, phase 3 training restrictions. Make dedicated 4 person training group classes available for those who are interested.
Additionally, we recommend requiring all students who choose to train in the regular group format to submit COVID-19 RT-PCR test results twice weekly.
Note 1: Antigen testing (looking for antibodies) does not count as a ‘test’. This is because of the poor sensitivity of antigen tests. This means that while a positive antigen test for COVID-19 IS highly reliable in telling a person that he or she has COVID-19 (it is highly specific), a negative test is not reliable for ruling out COVID-19. This means that if a person has a negative result with an antigen test, he or she will still need to have this negative result confirmed with a PCR-based test.
Note 2: Pooled testing results are also not included as part of the guidelines because of the limited availability (both regionally and due to the fact that only one version of the test (Quest SARS-CoV-2 rRT-PCR) has yet been given Emergency Use Authorization status by the FDA).
There is a requirement for a fairly low percent positivity rate of COVID-19 in a given area for pool testing to actually save testing resources. This is because the main benefit of pool testing is to more efficiently rule out COVID-19 cases. If the local burden of disease is high (i.e. > 10% percent positivity), the labs will have to spend more time and reagents to re-run the individual samples originally submitted to the pool.
For more information about pooled testing please refer to this study by the Nebraska Public Health laboratory investigating the efficiency and sensitivity of pool testing at different levels of percent positivity
Phase 5: Vulnerable Population May Return to Training
Phase 5 is another addendum specifically addressing the unique risk imposed by the very high level of physical contact in jiu-jitsu.
You can move from phase 4 to phase 5 if your jurisdiction has had 14 additional days of declining case numbers or declining percentages of positive tests as detailed above. You can also move from phase 6 back to phase 5 if there has been a flareup in local covid conditions using the same guidelines.
In phase 5 instructors and students who are members of a vulnerable population (or live with someone in that population) may return to partner training, including sparring.
Class size may also return to normal.
Phase 6: Front Line Healthcare Workers May Return to Training
Phase 6 is yet another addendum specifically addressing the unique risk imposed by Brazilian jiu jitsu, and it applies to front line healthcare workers who are directly exposed to COVID-19 in healthcare settings.
You can move into phase 6 if there are no local cases of COVID-19 (including those being treated in hospitals) within the within the county or major metropolitan area within which an academy is located for the last 14 days (as specified in Phase 3 above)
In phase 6 healthcare workers previously treating COVID-19 patients may return to training
Special situation: Students and instructors with presumed immunity to COVID-19
This applies to students/instructors who
- Were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19 (via COVID-19 RT-PCR testing)
- Are now recovered
- Are confirmed to carry antibodies against COVID via an FDA approved tests.
Just testing positive for antibodies alone does NOT qualify for someone as ‘immune to COVID-19.
- Currently the FDA has given emergency use authorization to only a handful of the antibody tests (there are more than 100 tests on the market currently). Antibody tests are notoriously unreliable and the FDA has tried to identify the best of them because of the critical nature of the emergency.
- We don’t yet have enough information about how accurate these tests are for asymptomatic patients. It’s probably reasonable to have a fair degree of confidence only in antibody tests from people who were previously confirmed to have COVID-19 (using an RT-PCR test) AND were symptomatic.
The take home message here is that just having a positive antibody test by itself shouldn’t currently be seen as a passport to train outside of the 6 phase system described above.
All instructors and students tested for COVID-19 AND found positive for the virus, then tested for serologically AND and found positive for the antibodies, may train among themselves separately from the other students.
Glossary of Terms
RT-PCR (real time polymerase chain reaction): the test used to diagnose a person with COVID-19.
Serology: the test used to determine person has antibodies to COVID-19.
IgM and IgG: types of antibodies produced in response to COVID-19 infection that are tested for by serology.
Emergency Use Authorization: Authorization from the FDA to used unapproved medical testing devices in an emergency to diagnose, treat or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases and conditions.
Links for More Information
Below are the source that Dr Chris Moriarty used in developing the above guidelines and referred to in the interview posted above.
Opening Up America Again – the 3 phase coronavirus recovery guidelines released by the Trump Whitehouse.
Pathophysiology and Treatment of Fever in Adults (from UpToDate.com) – a guide to determining if an adult has an abnormally high temperature (requires subscription for full access)
Fever Temperatures, Accuracy and Comparison (From the Unversity of Michigan) – which methods of taking a temperature are most accurate (keep in mind that for COVID-19 purposes methods that don’t involve physical contact are advantageous).
Symptoms of Coronavirus (from CDC.gov) – how to tell if someone might be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
Social Distancing, Quarantine and Isolation (from CDC.gov) – what is social distancing and why it helps.
The FDA’s List of Emergency Use Authorised Tests – not all covid and antibody tests are reliable. Here are the ones that have been given an emergency exemption to be used by the FDA.
People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Infection (from CDC.gov) – how to figure out who is in the most vulnerable population.
Chris Moriarty’s Facebook Page – This is where Stephan became aware of his guidelines initially.
Good luck with making it through these difficult times my friends,