Q&A: How will the coronavirus affect the Olympics?

Japan 2020
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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The United States continues to have the most coronavirus cases of any country, and its leader tested positive just this week.

“I think the biggest takeaway is that anyone can be infected, even someone that has a very highly controlled life and lives in a very highly controlled environment if you do not adhere to the public health interventions that we have been talking about for the past 6 or 7 months, like wearing a mask and social distancing. Not only you can be infected but all the people in your social circle can be infected,” said Dr. Stephen Thomas, the Infectious Disease division chief at the Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, New York.

That raises questions about how the Olympics will make sure competitions are safe if cases continue to be prevalent in participating countries.

“A priori, there’s a concern with bringing just the athletes and people who need to support the athletes,” he said, noting just those people would likely total more than 10,000 people.

He also said that as a vaccine is developed, countries will have to determine who can get them first. Many groups have shared a list of priorities, which includes those at high risk of infections, like health care workers, or those who would be very negatively affected if they got the virus, such as the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions.

“In the midst of a pandemic there are multiple groups that have come online and given their priorities, and young healthy athletes would not be within the first three phases of those schemas,” Dr. Thomas said.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee is moving forward with rescheduling Olympics traditions like the torch relay. It will now start March 21, 2021 and finish at the Opening Ceremony July 23.

Preparing for a first Olympics

Surfing is still set to make its debut this Olympics. In an interview with KSEE, world-renowned surfer Kelly Slater said during training, he and others have been able to train safely.

“We’re in the ocean. We’re pretty socially distanced,” said Slater during an appearance at his $30 million, man-made California surf ranch in August. “I was in Australia for three months and the whole time I was there you were able to surf the whole time and COVID-19 was super under control. So I don’t think surfing is the problem, and I think it makes sense that we get back out there.”

Slater lost in the semifinals of the last qualifying event in December and won’t be able to compete, but his ranch has become a useful training ground for others.

KSEE’s Andrew Marden said surfing is one of five new sports in this Olympics. A total of 20 men and 20 women will compete, and each country can have a maximum of two surfers per gender.

“The U.S. team is impressive,” Marden said. “The girl, Caroline Marks, in my story — 18 years old. She finished last year, again, just 18 years old, as the number two ranked woman in the country and Carissa Moore, who is the number one ranked woman in the world is also an American. She is a four-time world champion from Honolulu. So I think the expectations are pretty high for the U.S.”

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