By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(12-Jul) -- At the recent USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., veteran 800m runner Erik Sowinski told reporters that after more than two years of the pandemic he finally got infected with the coronavirus and developed COVID symptoms.Â He said that he hadn't eaten in a restaurant in over two years and had taken every reasonable precaution, and that his infection nearly took him out of those championships where he finished seventh.
"Finally got COVID for the first time eight days ago, Sowinski told reporters after his semi-final heat on June 24.Â He continued: "Honestly, three days ago I didn't know if I was going to get to the starting line."
The coronavirus (official name SARS-CoV-2) in its current form may not produce serious disease or death as often as at the beginning of the pandemic, especially given that many people have been vaccinated and boosted.Â But for an athlete, COVID represents a special risk.Â An infection could knock an athlete out of a competition for showing a positive test, take them out of their best training for days or weeks as they recover from COVID, or even sideline them for months should they develop Long COVID.Â Athletes can't simply open their laptops and work from home like other people if they don't feel well.
At the upcoming World Athletics Championships, which begin in Eugene on Friday, about 1900 athletes will assemble after months of rigorous training and qualifying competitions.Â For American athletes it will be the first --and likely the only-- time they will have the opportunity to compete in an outdoor world championships on home soil.Â Medals, as well as cash in the form of prize money and sponsor bonuses, are on the line.Â The stakes are high.
These championships will be held as COVID cases are on the rise again in Europe and the United States.Â According to detailed data recorded by the New York Times, about 117,000 Americans are getting infected each day, about an eight percent rise over the last two weeks.Â The newspaper reported late last week that the BA.5 variant of Omicron is now dominant and is "the most transmissible variant yet of the coronavirus." Â BA.5 is "the worst version of the virus we've seen," said Dr. Eric Topol professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, an often-cited virus researcher.Â Hospitalizations are up 17% over the last two weeks.
As a member of the media, I'll be in the interview area outside of Hayward Field and will be speaking with dozens of athletes over the ten-day championships as they come off of the field of play.Â We will speak face-to-face over a barricade, and to help protect these athletes (and myself) I will wear a quality mask, like a KN95 or N95.Â Although it is not required, I am encouraging all members of the media to mask-up and help protect athletes who simply can't afford to get infected at this critical time, especially given the high transmissibility of BA.5.
Furthermore, because the mixed zone can be both crowded and chaotic, masking is a good idea so that reporters can protect each other, too.Â It's good that the mixed zone is a tented area in open air (fresh air helps disperse virus particles), but reporters often squeeze together in order to hear what a top athlete has to say.Â At the recent USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships only a handful of reporters wore masks.
It helps that members of the media have to show a negative COVID test done within a day before they leave home in order to pick up their accreditation. However, since these championships will not be using an anti-COVID "bubble" like the Tokyo Olympics, a media member can easily get infected during the championships, or even on their flights to Eugene.Â Masking will provide an additional layer of protection.Â It also helps that all of the athletes have to be vaccinated.
It should be noted that the official World Athletics COVID-19 Medical Protocol encourages the use of masks while traveling, and discourages accredited persons from interacting with non-accredited persons to avoid infection.Â In practice, this will be extremely difficult as both fans and media members use some of the same facilities at the stadium and will surely be in close contact at the many restaurants and pubs which dot the neighborhood around the University of Oregon.
I am grateful and excited that these championships will finally take place after a one-year delay, and would like to thank both World Athletics and the local organizing committee for their efforts in setting them up.Â The media masking-up for athletes will make them just a little bit safer.