Members of the Ugandan boxing team tested positive for Covid-19 after landing in Tokyo back in June. In early July, a Serbian rower did too. The weekend before the Games began, the first people in the Tokyo Olympic Village tested positive for Covid-19; first, two South African soccer players, then a Czech volleyball player.
American tennis player Coco Gauff had to drop out of her first Olympics because of a positive test, and an alternate gymnast for Team USA though fully vaccinated tested positive for Covid-19, and is now spending the Games in her hotel room, under quarantine. A US mens beach volleyball player, testing positive, will likely be disqualified from a weekend match.
Since July 1, more than 75 people associated with the Olympics have gotten back positive Covid-19 results.
Then again, what do you expect when you host a mass sporting spectacle during a pandemic?
The International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games last year as the coronavirus spread around the globe, shutting down international travel and leaving countries on strict lockdowns.
If the delay was intended to push the Olympics into a post-pandemic world, the opposite happened. The pandemic evolved, and is now in one of its most dangerous phases, fueled by variants specifically delta and global inequity around vaccinations.
But the Olympics are still trying to be, well, the Olympics. Yes, there is a pandemic playbook, and safety protocols, like frequent testing. Yes, the stadiums will be largely empty of fans. Yes, there are vaccines, but the International Olympic Committee did not mandate them, though it worked to help teams access shots, saying about 80 to 85 percent of those in the Olympic Village would be vaccinated.
The Olympics were always going to be extraordinarily difficult to pull off in a pandemic, but some of the mess was foreseeable, and maybe even avoidable though it might have meant pulling off a different sort of Olympics than the one were used to.
Its fingers crossed, hopeful, magical thinking without really thinking about the risks, and what could they have done to lower those risks for everyone involved, Lisa Brosseau, a public health expert and research consultant with the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, who has written, along with her colleagues, on how the Olympics could have mitigated some of these Covid-19 risks.
So much of the debate focused on whether to cancel the Olympics altogether, something that was supposedly still a possibility in recent days. The course of the pandemic is beyond the control of the Olympic officials, of course, but the question is whether the planning or protocols around the Games should have changed, too. And now, with the Games already on, it is nearly impossible to change course.
Covid-19 disruptions are likely to be a defining feature of this 2020 Olympiad. It will not be a moment, as some hoped, of a world showing solidarity amid the toll and tragedy of the pandemic. Instead, it will be a showcase for just how far the world still has to go to defeat Covid-19 and the very real risks of not facing up to that reality.
The pandemic is worse now than when the 2020 Games were first postponed. More than 191 million Covid-19 cases have been detected as of July 2021, and more than 4 million people have died, according to the World Health Organization. Japan, the Olympic host, is seeing another surge of Covid-19 cases, low compared to US levels but almost double the caseload around this time in 2020. Tokyo recorded more than 1,900 new cases on July 22 a 155 percent increase from the previous weeks average.
The burden of the pandemic is now largely on unvaccinated people, split into two groups. The first is people who are reluctant to or refuse to get a shot, though its generally easily available to them, as in the United States. Then theres the much larger group: the rest of the world, the majority of whom live in places were vaccines arent readily available. About 26 percent of the worlds population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but just a little more than 1 percent of them are in low-income countries.
Still, even countries that sought to vaccinate their way out of the pandemic Israel and the United States, for example are seeing a troublesome uptick in cases. The delta variant is driving up cases everywhere; daily global coronavirus infections are up more than 40 percent compared to a month ago, according to the New York Times.
Though the vaccines largely protect against severe illness and death, the high numbers of still-unvaccinated people make it an imperfect firewall one that could grow weaker if the virus continues to spread and continues to change.
Olympic officials, back in 2020, couldnt have predicted these exact circumstances. Yet experts said that it became clear months ago that the existing protocols were going to be insufficient to fully prevent the spread of Covid-19 at the Olympics. And while the Olympic organizers made changes to their pandemic playbook on the margins, the commitment to a safe and secure Olympics wasnt as agile or flexible as it might have been.
This isnt a pandemic of 2020, and so the Olympics cant be, either, said Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California San Francisco. The old rules dont count anymore.
For one, theres a lot of hygiene theater, as Chin-Hong called it. These are things like temperature checks for athletes returning to the Olympic Village, though these have serious limitations, and things like restricted seating and plexiglass barriers in the dining room, which arent going to do much and may even give people a false sense of security.
Chin-Hong even suggested handing out N95 masks, or something more protective, for athletes as they interact with people, rather than just surgical or cloth masks. Experts have also raised concerns about the ventilation systems in the hotels, venues, and the Olympic Village. Updating those could do a lot more to protect athletes than, say, spacing those cardboard beds.
And then theres the so-called Olympic bubble. Only athletes are permitted to stay in the Olympic Village, and theyre supposed to follow Covid-19 protocols, like wearing masks and social distancing. Theyre not supposed to leave for a reason other than attending a competition, and they can face penalties if they break those rules.
But athletes arent required to stay in the Olympic Village; they could stay at hotels, for example. Also staying at hotels are media and coaches and support staff. All those people will be traveling to and interacting with each other and with volunteers and staff at events. In other words, the bubble very quickly bursts.
Daily saliva tests will help catch infections, but once someone has a positive Covid-19 test, its already too late the call is coming from inside the house, so to speak.
The issue with surveillance systems like that is that you are detecting exposure that already happened. And from there, you try to [pick] out whoever got exposed, potentially, and isolate those folks, said Tomoko Udo, assistant professor in the department of health policy, management, and behavior at the School of Public Health at University at Albany. But once its in, and it starts to spread really fast, you cant really do much. Its catch-up.
Tracking down close contacts could also get complicated. Tokyo organizers are having Olympic participants download a contract tracing app for mobile devices, except athletes probably dont have their cellphones on them when they compete. And how those contacts are treated varies on a case-by-case basis, which is exactly the kind of thing that always goes well when youre trying to maintain fair standards of competition.
With the Olympics starting now, officials cant entirely change course. Olympic officials could try to tighten the bubble a little bit, they could hand out more effective masks, but these are improvements on the edges. As Chin-Hong said: You cant take the elephant out of the room.
The cracks in some of the Olympic Covid-19 protocols seem easy to spot now. The Games organizers, like everyone else, were betting on vaccines. That, as Brosseau said, is more Olympic magical thinking.
It has always its been about were going to get everybody vaccinated, its going to be fine, Brosseau said. And we dont need to really worry about these other things all these other things are more for show really, the Plexiglas barriers and people bringing their face masks.
Its not just the Olympics. Entire countries engaged in this magical thinking, hoping to rely on herd immunity brought about by vaccines. But that strategy wasnt ever really practical for the Olympics, either.
Most obviously, the IOC did not mandate vaccination to participate in the Olympics. The IOC made a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech to help countries get vaccines, and many countries prioritized the vaccination of athletes.
But experts said that even though the overall figure of 85 percent provided by the IOC seems quite high, its more complicated on closer inspection. Different countries might have different vaccines, which have different levels of effectiveness, and also have different guidelines on who can get the vaccine (say, people under 16, who can compete in the Olympics). The level of vaccination may vary for specific delegations or teams, and they may be coming from a place where, even if theyre vaccinated, Covid-19 cases are high. Some athletes were always going to refuse vaccination if it wasnt required.
And so far that seems to be the case. According to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee medical chief, about 100 out of Americas 613 athletes are unvaccinated and there is no question that shots were available to them. On top of that, Japans rate of vaccination is only about 23 percent, and most of those shots have gone to elderly people and health care workers. Japan planned to vaccinate its Olympic volunteers, but what of taxi drivers or hotel workers or others whom Olympic participants may come in contact with? Among those who have tested positive in recent days (though their vaccination status is unclear) were a volunteer, six contractors, and one Games staffer, according to Reuters.
Vaccines seemed like a safety net in pulling off the Olympics, but its clear that safety net was not enough if the goal was to stop any spread of the virus. In a way, the Olympics are a reflection of a broader dilemma at this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. Vaccinations are astonishingly effective at preventing severe illness and death, and they are helping places get back to a version of normal. People are also tired and fatigued of additional restrictions, even as the virus is roaring back, or surging in places it never left. You see this pressure and conflict and tension arise, Udo said.
That same tension exists in the Olympics. Tokyo faces restrictions on business and restaurants, but athletes are coming from all around the world to the city. Covid-19 is sidelining athletes, and the leaderboards and gold medal tallies will have a permanent caveat.
Then again, its the Olympics, were doing it! Well watch world records being broken, and witness these incredible feats of human speed and agility, and it will look and feel to many of us watching from afar like the Olympics weve always known.
But it maybe shouldnt have been the Olympics weve always known.
The protocols and vaccinations are important, and they will help create a barrier against Covid-19. But maybe the most effective way to minimize the risks at the Olympics might have turned the spectacle into something entirely different. Brosseau and her colleagues, for example, suggested potentially spacing out the Olympics over many weeks, with different sports competing at different times, to eliminate the number of people in Tokyo all at once.
Maybe different athletes or sports should have followed different protocols whether they play indoors or outdoors, whether people play on teams or compete solo rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Its not that perfect everyone-is-together-enjoying-this-amazing-event, Brosseau said. But its a pandemic, for goodness sake. Its still the Olympics. But no they really wanted to have the Olympics be as much as possible like it is.
And maybe Olympic fans do, too. Except, a year and change into the pandemic, the one constant of the pandemic has been that no amount of magical thinking can will it away.
Read more from the original source:
We have vaccines. Did the Covid-19 Olympics have to be a mess? - Vox.com
- 15 more Utahns die of COVID-19 in the past day - Salt Lake Tribune - September 23rd, 2021
- Moderna CEO says COVID-19 pandemic could be over in a year - Fox Business - September 23rd, 2021
- Severe COVID-19 may trigger autoimmune conditions; New variants cause more virus in the air - Reuters - September 23rd, 2021
- She's an Anchorage nurse. Her brother died of COVID-19 at the hospital where she works. - Anchorage Daily News - September 23rd, 2021
- Americans who relied most on Trump for COVID-19 news among least likely to be vaccinated - Pew Research Center - September 23rd, 2021
- What Is the R.1 COVID Variant? Experts Share What It Could Mean for the U.S. - Prevention.com - September 23rd, 2021
- Influenza Season Begins With Strained Critical Care Facilities and Staffing from COVID-19 - AustinTexas.gov - September 23rd, 2021
- Return to school has caused a surge in covid-19 cases in under-vaccinated counties - The Economist - September 23rd, 2021
- Houston Health Department to offer on campus COVID-19 testing in schools - City of Houston - September 23rd, 2021
- COVID-19 live updates: Hospitalizations reach another all-time high in Iowa for 2021 - ABC News - September 23rd, 2021
- COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic on 23 September - World Economic Forum - September 23rd, 2021
- Loveland clinic owner refused to stop overstating effectiveness of alleged COVID-19 cures, AG says - 9News.com KUSA - September 23rd, 2021
- Nearly 10000 new COVID-19 cases reported by Ohio schools this week - NBC4 WCMH-TV - September 23rd, 2021
- Funeral procession planned Friday for FHP Trooper who died of COVID-19 - Wink News - September 23rd, 2021
- Jonas Brothers concert to require COVID-19 test or vaccination - WSYR - September 23rd, 2021
- FCPS grieves the loss of 15-year-old sophomore to COVID-19 - LEX18 Lexington KY News - September 23rd, 2021
- China imposes local lockdowns as COVID-19 cases surge - September 17th, 2021
- Exhaustion, regret in the halls of hospitals as COVID-19 continues to threaten Michigan - Detroit Free Press - September 17th, 2021
- Texas doctors, seeing unprecedented numbers of pregnant patients with COVID-19, urge pregnant people to get vaccinated - The Texas Tribune - September 17th, 2021
- Alaska once had the highest vaccination rate. Now it's in a COVID-19 crisis. - ABC News - September 17th, 2021
- Inside the COVID-19 outbreak sweeping through the Red Sox - The Boston Globe - September 17th, 2021
- Maine reports 1390 COVID-19 cases, 52 active outbreaks in schools - pressherald.com - September 17th, 2021
- Idaho Is Rationing Health Care Statewide As It Struggles To Cope With COVID-19 - NPR - September 17th, 2021
- Lee Health treating 333 COVID-19 patients as of Friday morning - Wink News - September 17th, 2021
- 3000 Health Care Workers In France Have Been Suspended For Not Getting A COVID Shot - NPR - September 17th, 2021
- New Hanover County reports record-high 37 COVID-19 deaths in the past week - Communications and Outreach - Communications and Outreach - North... - September 17th, 2021
- MSDH: 15 pregnant women have died from COVID-19 in Mississippi - Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - September 17th, 2021
- Covid-19 Rapid Testing in U.S. Lags Behind Other Countries in Delta Wave - The Wall Street Journal - September 17th, 2021
- How low exactly is COVID-19 transmission in the San Francisco Bay Area right now? - SFGate - September 17th, 2021
- Trial over COVID-19 outbreak in Austria's 'Ibiza of the Alps' begins - Reuters - September 17th, 2021
- Why California Has One of the Lowest Covid-19 Rates in the Nation - The New York Times - September 17th, 2021
- Wrongly convicted man dies of Covid-19, nine years after he was exonerated - CNN - September 17th, 2021
- Beijing 2022 Games to have rigorous COVID-19 measures-IOC - Reuters - September 17th, 2021
- Fear is our worst enemy when it comes to COVID-19 and children | Opinion - The Philadelphia Inquirer - September 17th, 2021
- More Than 1,200 Mass. Kids Test Positive For COVID-19 This Week - CBS Boston - September 17th, 2021
- COVID-19 Daily Update 9-16-2021 - West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources - September 17th, 2021
- A journey inside the human body as it goes to war with COVID-19 - USA TODAY - September 17th, 2021
- 54 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, 2 new clusters - The Garden Island - September 17th, 2021
- 1 in every 500 US residents have died of Covid-19 - CNN - September 15th, 2021
- COVID is on its way to becoming just another virus ... - September 15th, 2021
- In her obituary, a family says a mother's Covid-19 death could have been prevented if more people were vaccinated - CNN - September 15th, 2021
- When will the COVID-19 pandemic end? McKinsey experts explain | World Economic Forum - World Economic Forum - September 15th, 2021
- Here's What Worries Air Travelers More Than Getting Covid-19 - Forbes - September 15th, 2021
- Betadines maker says you shouldnt ingest it for COVID-19 treatment or any other reason - WNCT - September 15th, 2021
- 14 new COVID-19 cases & one nonresident death reported for Juneau City and Borough of Juneau - City and Borough of Juneau - September 15th, 2021
- DHEC Updates Its Statewide School COVID-19 Reporting to Include Quarantined and Isolated Students and School Employees - SCDHEC - September 15th, 2021
- New Mexico health, education officials to address states COVID-19 trends Wednesday - KRQE News 13 - September 15th, 2021
- Researchers Say Some People Have Developed Superhuman Immunity Against COVID-19 - CBS Dallas / Fort Worth - September 15th, 2021
- COVID-19 vaccines: Here's how to spot misinformation on social media and fight it - Detroit Free Press - September 15th, 2021
- How the U.S. Nailed the Economic Response to Covid-19 - The Wall Street Journal - September 15th, 2021
- Charlie Baker says a lot of people got the COVID-19 outbreak in Provincetown all wrong - Boston.com - September 15th, 2021
- COVID-19 in South Dakota: 568 total new cases; Death toll increases to 2,093; Active cases at 7,364 - KELOLAND.com - September 15th, 2021
- Majority in U.S. Says Public Health Benefits of COVID-19 Restrictions Worth the Costs, Even as Large Shares Also See Downsides - Pew Research Center - September 15th, 2021
- Federated learning for predicting clinical outcomes in patients with COVID-19 - Nature.com - September 15th, 2021
- Colorado radio host who urged boycott of vaccines dies of Covid-19 - The Guardian - September 15th, 2021
- Regular COVID-19 testing in Austin schools could be more effective than mask wearing, UT analysis shows - KXAN.com - September 15th, 2021
- Color-coded school thresholds added to Utah COVID-19 dashboard | Utah Department of Health - Utah Department of Health - September 15th, 2021
- Bartholomew County reporting three new COVID-19 deaths - The Republic - September 15th, 2021
- Increasing COVID-19 patients having negative impacts on ambulance response times - KPTV.com - September 15th, 2021
- Elementary school closes because of COVID-19 and other illnesses - East Idaho News - September 15th, 2021
- FDA Will Follow The Science On COVID-19 Vaccines For Young Children | FDA - FDA.gov - September 15th, 2021
- COVID Dashboard - September 13th, 2021
- Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count - September 13th, 2021
- COVID-19 in Arkansas: Hospitalizations down for the fifth straight day - KARK - September 13th, 2021
- First known A&M student reported to have died from COVID-19 complications - Texas A&M The Battalion - September 13th, 2021
- Parents Grow Increasingly Concerned As COVID-19 Cases Continue To Rise - CBS Baltimore - September 13th, 2021
- Study finds who may get more severe illness from a COVID-19 breakthrough case - SFGate - September 13th, 2021
- Like 9/11, COVID-19s toll set to shape a generation - NJ Spotlight - September 13th, 2021
- Austin Arts & Music festival latest event canceled due to COVID-19 while others resume - KXAN.com - September 13th, 2021
- The COVID-19 surge is overwhelming emergency rooms across Virginia - Virginia Mercury - September 13th, 2021
- MDHHS issues guidance for parents with children exposed to COVID-19 - WLNS - September 13th, 2021
- Low incidence of breakthrough infections at YNHHS highlights importance of COVID-19 vaccines - Yale Daily News - September 13th, 2021
- Alaska's COVID-19 hospitalizations have hit new all-time highs. Here's what that number really reflects. - Anchorage Daily News - September 13th, 2021
- COVID-19 cases among children in Oregon, Lane County higher than ever during pandemic - The Register-Guard - September 13th, 2021
- VERIFY: Do NFL fans have to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to attend games? - WCNC.com - September 13th, 2021
- Regeneron, effective in treating COVID-19, arrives in Kitsap County - Kitsap Sun - September 13th, 2021
- Despite early jump on COVID-19, tribes lose a brother and a son - OPB News - September 13th, 2021
- DHHR adds more than 2,200 COVID-19 cases on Sunday - West Virginia MetroNews - September 13th, 2021
- Bidens Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate Further Stresses Supply of Rapid Tests - The Wall Street Journal - September 13th, 2021
- Travel and Covid-19 Testing: What to Know if Youre Flying or Taking a Cruise - The Wall Street Journal - September 13th, 2021