Pandemic Olympics: Health Experts Worry COVID May Win Gold

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Editor's note: This is the archetypal communicative successful a bid highlighting the 2021 Olympic Games with a circumstantial accent connected wellness and wellness.

July 15, 2021 -- Like each Olympic hopefuls, swimmer Michael Andrew, 22, has his oculus connected the golden -- and the grooming needed to drawback that medal.

But this week, during an interrogation connected Fox Business, Andrew laid bare the information that these Games volition not beryllium similar immoderate other.

Andrew made quality erstwhile helium said helium volition not get a COVID-19 vaccine earlier heading to the Games due to the fact that helium didn’t privation thing to perchance derail his training.

“I’m an elite athlete. Everything we instrumentality and enactment successful our assemblage is precise calculated,” helium said. “With the play going into Olympic trials, I didn’t privation to hazard immoderate clip retired of the pool.”

It was a awesome that the archetypal Pandemic Olympic Games are near.

Andrew’s connection triggered outrage among radical calling it selfish -- arsenic good arsenic concerns from nationalist wellness experts, who accidental they are already disquieted astir COVID-19 spreading astatine the Games. And it further shifted attraction from the thousands of athletes from astir the satellite gathering successful Tokyo to the precise existent information that these Olympics, already postponed from 2020, volition beryllium astir the combat against coronavirus arsenic overmuch arsenic it volition beryllium astir the thrill of triumph and the agony of defeat.

Already, COVID-19 has changed these Olympics. Gone volition beryllium the iconic moments wherever winning athletes bow their heads and person a medal placed astir their necks. No, this year, winners volition prime up their ain medals disconnected a tray.

Vaccinations Suggested, Not Required

While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) doesn't mandate vaccination, it says that 85% of athletes and officials are vaccinated oregon person earthy immunity from a anterior infection. Still, nationalist wellness officials privation that percent would beryllium person to 100%. On Twitter and aesculapian journals and different publications, nationalist wellness experts are calling retired the IOC for what they spot arsenic a nonaccomplishment to instrumentality the coronavirus risks earnestly enough.

Their suggestions astir however to trim risks adjacent much person mostly fallen connected deaf ears, says Annie Sparrow, MD, adjunct prof of colonisation wellness subject and argumentation astatine the Icahn School of Medicine astatine Mount Sinai, 1 of a radical of U.S. experts invited to taxable ideas to the IOC readying meetings connected reducing COVID-19 risk. "Our input truly hasn't been taken seriously," she says.

In a tweet Wednesday, Sparrow lashed retired astatine IOC President Thomas Bach, calling him "all talk, nary action" for falling abbreviated connected nationalist wellness measures to trim risk.

Brian McCloskey, seat of the IOC's autarkic adept sheet and adept successful planetary wellness and infectious diseases, disagrees.

He says immoderate of their concerns person been addressed arsenic the IOC's Olympic Playbooks person been continually updated. The 3rd version, released successful June, is simply a 70-page papers for athletes and officials and covers recommendations for before, during, and aft the Games.

"They are a cardinal portion of our hazard simplification strategy for the Games and person been regularly updated arsenic we larn from the wide scope of sporting events that person successfully been staged successful caller months," McCloskey says.

Other playbooks screen the workforce, selling partners, media, families of Olympics and Paralympics participants, and planetary federations.

Countdown to Tokyo

An estimated 11,000 athletes from much than 200 countries are expected to stitchery successful Tokyo for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad.

Along the mode to the July 23 opening ceremonies, IOC officials person met with overmuch absorption and interest astir COVID-19, including important pushback from Japanese residents. In May, a survey by Asahi Shimbun, a starring regular newspaper, recovered that 83% of Japanese voters opposed the Olympics. More recently, however, that absorption seems to beryllium fading. A canvass successful precocious June by Fuji Television recovered conscionable 30.5% were successful favour of cancellation.

Resistance whitethorn person fallen erstwhile citizens recovered retired that the stands wouldn't beryllium packed with people. After the authorities of Japan declared a authorities of exigency connected July 8, meant to trim the fig of incoming people, the IOC and different organizing groups prohibited spectators successful the Tokyo venues (but inactive allowing fans successful immoderate venues extracurricular the city).

As of July 12, astir 19% of the colonisation of Japan is afloat vaccinated, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. That is low, but a crisp summation from the extremity of May, erstwhile different information recovered a afloat vaccinated complaint of nether 3%.

As of July 12, Japan has had 824,990 COVID-19 cases and astir 15,000 deaths.

IOC's Perspective

On Wednesday, the IOC’s Bach met with Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide to sermon last preparations. Bach noted that too the 85% vaccination complaint of athletes and officials successful the village, astir 100% of the IOC members and unit are vaccinated, on with 70% to 80% of media expected astatine the Games.

He besides reported a debased positivity complaint truthful far. An estimated 8,000 radical progressive successful the Games traveled to Japan from July 1-13; each had pre-departure tests and wellness checks. According to Bach, lone 3 tested affirmative for COVID-19 aft arrival. All were isolated close away. Close contacts were quarantined.

In the latest playbook, the IOC issues a fig of guidelines. Among the highlights for athletes and officials:

  • Self-monitoring. Monitoring for symptoms should statesman 14 days earlier departure.
  • Testing. Athletes are tested earlier departing for the Games, connected accomplishment astatine the airport, and regular astatine the Games. They are besides tested if immoderate symptoms develop. If positive, they are isolated.
  • Contact tracing. Close contacts of infected radical volition besides beryllium tested. Contact tracing is by smartphone app.
  • Risk reduction. Masks are to beryllium worn astatine each times but erstwhile eating, drinking, training, competing, oregon sleeping. Physical interactions are to beryllium minimalized. Ventilation successful each areas is recommended.

Public Health Experts' Response

Even with the work of the 3rd mentation of the playbook, the protocols autumn short, Sparrow says. Among the strategies that she and others accidental should besides beryllium employed:

  • Risk stratification. Classify events arsenic low, moderate, oregon precocious hazard depending connected the enactment and the venue. Outdoor events successful which competitors are people spaced retired (like sailing, equestrian) whitethorn beryllium viewed arsenic debased risk. Indoor sports, specified arsenic boxing and wrestling, are astir apt precocious risk. Protocols should alteration depending connected hazard levels. The hazard stratification tin besides beryllium applied to non-competition spaces, with hotels, buses, and cafeterias viewed arsenic higher hazard than outdoor areas.
  • Testing frequency. Testing frequence is not ideal, Sparrow says. "All the athletes should beryllium tested doubly daily."
  • Ventilation. Key issues astir things similar ventilation are not addressed sufficiently. Hotel hallways person precocious density and debased ventilation -- a atrocious combination.
  • HEPA. HEPA filters, placed wide successful athletes' rooms, eating areas, and elsewhere, tin trim transmission of airborne particles.
  • Contact tracing. Contact-tracing apps are often not effective. Sparrow says precise fewer athletes volition vie arsenic they transportation a mobile phone. Better: wearable devices (rings, bracelets) with proximity sensors.

Ongoing Debates

In an sentiment portion successful The Hill July 6, Sparrow and Lisa Brosseau, ScD, a retired prof from the University of Illinois and an adept successful infectious diseases, elaborate connected the value of stratifying sports by risk. "Wrestling is riskier than weightlifting,'' they write. "Boxing is riskier than badminton. Thomas Bach, PhD, IOC president and golden medalist successful fencing, should recognize that fencers person a overmuch higher hazard of spreading COVID-19 than track-and-field athletes."

Besides the playbooks astir however to enactment safe, McCloskey says the IOC connected July 9 published the "Sports Specific Rules" that acceptable retired circumstantial requirements for antithetic sports. The rules absorption connected a people of enactment erstwhile an jock oregon authoritative tests positive, according to the IOC. As participants stitchery successful Tokyo, McCloskey says, ''we tin pass straight with them successful the Village and the venues, and spell done the idiosyncratic sports' rules and countermeasures."

But Sparrow was hoping for hazard simplification strategies by athletics to forestall affirmative tests, not accusation connected what to bash erstwhile a circumstantial athletics has a affirmative test.

In an earlier position published successful The New England Journal of Medicine, Sparrow, University of Minnesota infectious illness adept Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, and colleagues, urged IOC organizers to heed lessons from different ample sporting events, adapting measures that work, specified arsenic azygous edifice rooms for athletes, predominant testing, and wearable exertion for interaction monitoring.

Lots of Moving Parts

While overmuch of the hazard absorption focuses connected athletes and officials, ''there are galore opportunities beyond the diversion venues for the microorganism to spread," says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious illness specializer astatine Vanderbilt University Medical Center successful Nashville. He's talking astir each the radical who marque the Olympics run, ''the radical successful the proverbial boiler room, the section radical sweeping streets, selling tickets."

The latest mentation of the playbook does see recommendations for the workforce, specified arsenic staff, volunteers, and contractors. Many of the aforesaid recommendations are made for them arsenic for athletes.

Many of these radical whitethorn beryllium older, and truthful much susceptible to COVID-19, Schaffner says. "And if it's thing similar the U.S. determination volition beryllium gatherings successful homes, arsenic radical get unneurotic and speech astir [the Games]."

As for whether the Games person the imaginable to beryllium a superspreader event, Schaffner says: "Of people it has that potential. Given everything I've heard [about prevention measures], I deliberation that imaginable is reduced."

He does, however, expect immoderate transmission.

Schaffner has sympathy for the IOC readying committee.

"The IOC has millions of issues to woody with,” helium says. “Along comes coronavirus and says 'Hello, I'm successful complaint now.'''

Ethics and the Olympics

The deficiency of an IOC mandate for vaccination doesn't beryllium good with Arthur Caplan, PhD, prof of bioethics astatine New York University.

"It is ethical lunacy to person athletes coming to vie from astir the satellite without requiring vaccination," helium says. The thought ''that we person to respect prime makes zero consciousness erstwhile the risks are existent and the information of putting different athletes and spectators and adjacent the assemblage astatine hazard are high. Tokyo is poorly vaccinated and truthful is Japan."

"Athletes person nary cardinal close to harm others successful the sanction of contention oregon getting a medal. I inactive don't recognize wherefore everyone [going to the Olympics] wasn't vaccinated a period ago."

Caplan calls immoderate jock declining vaccines ''a precise mediocre relation exemplary for young people," unless determination is simply a morganatic wellness oregon spiritual crushed for passing it up.

Last week, Andrew, the Olympic swimmer, said during a quality conference that helium wasn’t vaccinated and didn’t program to get a shot. He contracted COVID-19 months agone and said helium was acrophobic astir imaginable vaccine broadside effects that could impact his grooming schedule. He besides said helium felt protected by the information protocols implemented by USA Swimming.

“I didn’t deliberation this is what the hype and excitement astir the ‘Michael Andrew’ sanction would beryllium — would revolve astir vaccines,” helium added. “But I understand, and it’s thing I’m consenting to basal for.”

As the Games begin, Caplan says helium hopes the media besides pays attraction to ethics, reporting not lone connected the Games but astir immoderate outbreaks, and continues to study astir Japanese absorption to the Games.

Frustrations Aside, an Opportunity to Unite?

Despite debates astir hazard reduction, the Olympics are seen arsenic an accidental to unite the satellite astatine a clip erstwhile it's sorely needed. Even with the vexation that Sparrow expresses astir what she sees arsenic the deficiency of perfect hazard reduction, volition she watch? "Definitely," she says. "We benignant of request this to work."

In his July 14 statement, the IOC's Bach predicted that the Games ''will beryllium followed by billions of radical astir the world. They volition respect what the Japanese radical person achieved nether these hard circumstances."

Carolyn Crist contributed to this report.

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