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An Olympic Doctor Discusses the Effect of the Coronavirus on Sports


The World Health Organization has issued guidelines for mass gatherings. They aren’t saying don’t have these events, but do so with precautions. There is no such thing as zero risk, and the risk is based on prevalence of disease in an area. If you are in a place where there is a high number of people infected, then even if it’s a small gathering, the risk is higher. Studies that have been done in China indicate that the area where the greatest transmission has occurred is at home, because you’ve had close and frequent contact with someone who is infected.

We have MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and yet we still have the large event known as the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. They try to mitigate the spread through education about social distancing, not shaking hands and avoiding touching the face.

Is an indoor mass event more dangerous than an outdoor one?

Intuitively, you would say an outdoor event has more potential for social distancing and the air moving, so that might reduce the risk. Indoors, if you are in close quarters, you may be next to someone who is sick. But to my knowledge, there is not a specific study that describes the difference between the two with coronavirus.

What misconceptions exist about this virus?

There is misinformation about when people are infectious. In flu, there is a period where you are contagious before you are symptomatic. With this, that does not appear to be the case. Coronavirus appears to be contagious primarily when you are symptomatic.

Is it safe to use equipment at a gym?

In areas where there is significant contact with surfaces, particularly in an area with coronavirus, then if you are touching the surfaces you want to mitigate risk. If you are touching something other people have touched, don’t touch your face immediately after. Use hand sanitizer that has 60 percent alcohol content. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Wipe down equipment at the gym. It’s always a good idea for healthy hygiene to wipe it down before and after use.

People talk about the Olympic Games as a petri dish and a perfect vehicle for spreading illness worldwide. Is that fair?

If there was an unknown, emerging disease, and we were not prepared for it and not taking precautions, and you brought people from all over the world in close contact and not taking precautions, then I would agree that any mass gathering like that would have potential to spread disease. But the I.OC. and the W.H.O. and the local organizing committee are doing a great job working with the public health system to prepare not only athletes but staff and people coming to give them information.

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