Olympic Athletes, Team Officials Testing Positive for COVID at Higher Rates

Carolyn Crist

February 02, 2022

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Athletes and team officials are testing positive for COVID-19 at higher rates than other people arriving in China for the Beijing Olympics.

The Beijing Organizing Committee released numbers on Tuesday that showed 11 positive COVID-19 tests among 379 athletes and officials who arrived Monday. They're now in isolation hotels to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The positive test rate among athletes and officials was 2.9%, as compared with .66% among Olympic "stakeholders," which include workers and media. Among the stakeholders, seven of 1,059 people who arrived Monday tested positive.

Between Saturday and Monday, the positivity rate for Olympic athletes and officials arriving in Beijing was 40% higher than for the others arriving for the Olympic Games.

The rates were confirmed with more sensitive PCR tests and follow-up tests for the tens of thousands of people who will live, work, and train in closed-off bubbles away from the public. The Chinese government is pursuing a zero-tolerance public health policy to curb the spread of the virus, according to The Associated Press.

On Monday, the rate of infection for those already inside the Olympic bubbles was 100 times higher for athletes and team officials, compared to workers. Five of 3,103 tests from that group were positive, as compared with only one of more than 60,000 daily tests conducted among the stakeholder group.

Since Jan. 23, a total of 232 positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded, the AP reported. Among those, 76 were athletes and team officials, and the other 156 were among the stakeholders.

The International Olympic Committee has a playbook for athletes and team officials that encourages vaccination. Anyone who isn't fully vaccinated must quarantine for 21 days upon arrival. Medical exemptions have been granted on a case-by-case basis.

Each person arriving in China is tested for COVID-19 and can continue their journey to Beijing with a negative result. People are then tested again at the Beijing airport and are screened daily during the Games.

On Wednesday, Organizing Committee members said they weren't worried and expected the number of positive tests to drop within days, according to the AP.  About 30 positive tests are being detected daily, with the opening ceremony scheduled for Friday.

"For the first few days in the closed loop, the risk is still a bit higher because of the risk of people incubating the disease very slowly," Brian McCloskey, MD, an Olympic medical adviser who is leading the organizers' medical expert panel, told the AP.

After spending about 5 days in the Olympics bubbles, "the risk comes down to equivalent to the local population risk — very, very low," he said.

McCloskey said he is focused on spotting cases of community transmission that could threaten the events.

"The main challenge is not the number of cases, it's the indication of whether there is spread within the closed loop," he said. "We are obviously nowhere near that level at present."


The Associated Press: "Olympic athletes, team officials testing positive for COVID-19 at higher rate than others" "Olympic advisers at ease with COVID rate, see cases falling."

Beijing 2022: "Update on Beijing 2022 COVID-19 Prevention and Control," Jan. 31, 2022.

International Olympic Committee: "The Beijing 2022 Playbook: Athletes and Team Officials."


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