Olympic Athletes Are Experiencing A Surge In COVID-19 Cases. Here's What We Know

Athletes and officials heading to Beijing for the Olympics face a series of obstacles not related to their sport — COVID-19 tests. Each person has to test negative at least twice before landing in China, and then again upon arrival, per WTHR. And, once there, individuals are tested for COVID-19 daily. A single positive test could put an abrupt stop to the Olympic dream after years of training.

And although figures from China report relatively low COVID-19 case counts — Olympic medical adviser Brian McCloskey notes that "Virtually every country in the world at the moment has a higher level of COVID than China" — positive test results among athletes and officials are coming at rates substantially higher than the local population (via Yahoo! News).

The average number of new positive cases among personnel in the past few days has been around 31, with a record-high spike on February 2nd of 55. 29 of these were from new arrivals at the airport, and 26 were among personnel living in the Olympic 'closed loop' – bubble communities where event personnel live, work, and train in complete separation from the general public (per CNN).

Athletes worry about testing positive before the games

Medical officials attribute the higher numbers to cases of slow incubation. Dr. McCloskey told WebMD, "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." He adds that after about five days of living in the 'loop,' the risk is lowered to be equivalent to that of the general population.

And though positive COVID-19 cases are relatively high among Olympic participants, they are still very low overall. In the past couple of weeks, there have been 287 positive cases out of 610,000 tests, per Reuters.

That doesn't give any assurance to athletes competing for an Olympic medal though. Many have been living in some degree of lockdown in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony with the hope of avoiding a potentially career-ending COVID-19 infection. American moguls skier Hannah Soar says "It's definitely not how I pictured the month leading up to the Olympics to be. I expected to just be focused on winning the Olympics and not concerned about you know, going. It definitely is a huge mental toll" (via WTHR).