Following U.S. Gymnast's positive COVID test, Dr. Osterholm issues another Olympic warning

"You could not probably have had a worse time to put the Olympics on"

A Kansas City-area gymnast in Tokyo serving as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team has tested positive for COVID-19, her family confirmed Monday. With the Olympic Games just a few days away it is again raising concerns about holding the competition during the ongoing pandemic.

University of Minnesota director of infectious diseases, Dr. Michael Osterholm is deeply concerned about the spread of the virus especially with such close contact between athletes.

“If you are vaccinated in your space where someone else who is his infected has been in the same room etc., there is a small but real chance you still can become infected,” warns Osterholm. “The vaccine is not 100% effective.  It’s plus 90% effective, but not 100%. So there's that real possibility.  But in addition, they need to be quarantined, so that should you become infected yourself in the earliest stages you don't transmit the virus to others.”

According to NBC, after arriving in Japan on Thursday, the gymnasts stayed in their travel accommodations and practiced in venues, but did not spend time in the city. Another team member who was identified as a "close contact" of the gymnast has been placed "on standby."

Osterholm told WCCO’s Mike Max that these situations will be extremely challenging to handle because athletes will need to quarantine and may not be able to compete in their events.

“One of the challenges with the Olympics is not only might I not be able to participate because I'm infected, but I may be, particularly if you’re unvaccinated, be in quarantine so that I don't transmit to someone else should I be infected.”

While athletes will be tested frequently, Osterholm says the new Delta Variant is creating havoc in Japan, particularly around Tokyo.

“Right now Tokyo is in an emergency status with an all-time high reported number of cases coming out this variant and I think you're just beginning to see what's going to be a commonplace situation over the course of the next several weeks with the testing and with the number of people who become infected and are unable to participate.”

Concern for the Olympics is not new for Osterholm who has been sounding the alarm about this for several months.  Despite being delayed for a year already, he says not having clear data on who is vaccinated is just one of the problems organizers are still facing.

“I've been advising the games and was concerned that this was going to happen, expressing this to the IOC as well as the World Health Organization,” Osterholm tells WCCCO Radio.  “And I still can't tell you, nor can anyone else, just what the percentage of athletes or their support team members are that are vaccinated.  As you know, we have many thousands of media and others coming from around the world at a time when this variant is moving quickly.”

While the Delta Variant of COVID is causing caseloads to skyrocket in Japan, the U.S. is just beginning to see those same increases, something Osterholm says will only be going up.

“Right now in the United States we have all 50 states are seeing increases in cases,” says Osterholm.  “Some of the major increase in cases and other states are going to see that in the weeks ahead. So we are just a microcosm here of what's happening around the world. You could not probably have had a worse time to put the Olympics on in terms of what the impact of COVID will be.”

The Opening Ceremonies are this Friday and are scheduled to run through Sunday, August 8th.