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Updated JAAF Study Finds Two Cases of COVID-19 Out of Over 750,000 People at 1,100 Races During 2020-21 Year

On May 14 the JAAF released an expansion of a study it had previously released last fall researching the number of incidences of COVID-19 among participants and officials at track meets and road races. The full study covered the 2020-21 fiscal year from Apr. 1, 2020 to Mar. 31, 2021, and included 1,044 track meets and 74 road races that took place during this period.

Out of 750,389 participants and officials at these 1,118 events, the JAAF study documented two cases of people being diagnosed with COVID-19 within two weeks following the event they had attended. The track meet component of the total included 568,271 participants and 147,942 officials, out of which one person tested positive for COVID-19. Presumably this was the same lone case reported in last fall's version of the study. 

The road race component included 25,936 participants and 8.240 officials, with one case of COVID-19 reported. These numbers were in line with those reported by the Nagoya Women's Marathon, which found zero cases of COVID-19 among almost 5,000 participants within two weeks after its March race date. Over 50% of both the track meets and road races were held without spectators, in the case of road races this mostly taking the form of requests from race organizers for people not to turn out and cheer along the course.

With vaccinations in Japan having begun in mid-April, 2021 for only the oldest, most at-risk people and general vaccine access still a distant dream sometime in the fall or winter, maybe, the numbers do not include any kind of substantial effect of vaccination. 

But despite the good news in this report, it's important to understand that it does not show that track meets, road races and other outdoor events pose no risk. It shows that even when vaccines are not part of the equation, events like these have a very low risk of spreading infection when held with a low baseline rate of infection, strict and effective protocols at the event, and a cooperative and responsible population. 

Luckily, Japan has all those. That's a plus for the chances of this summer's Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games going ahead in a safe manner without the kind of doomsday outcome predicted by fear-mongering articles like this one in the New York Times this week. Likewise for the fall marathon season, especially if the Suga administration pulls its head out and gets vaccinations rolling. The numbers are on the side of staying optimistic, even if it's not easy.

© 2021 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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