Olympics difficult to hold without a vaccine; athletes get financial boost as training continues

Japan 2020

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s officially less than a year — again — to the start of the Tokyo Olympics.

July 23 marked 365 days until the postponed Games are set to begin, and the International Olympic Committee marked it with a series of digital events, including live streams, athlete chats and the release of a video titled #StrongerTogether.

But even as the host city is still decorated with symbols of the games, a survey in mid-July showed 23.9% of people in Japan were in favor of still holding the postponed Olympics. The Japan Times reported 36.4% of respondents to the three-day telephone survey supported postponing the Games again, while 33.7% said they should be canceled.

The president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee told Japanese broadcaster NHK that if the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic continues and remains unchanged, that the Olympics could not be held. Yoshiro Mori said vaccines and treatments will be key to keeping the virus under control and allowing the Games to proceed.

Decisions to cancel large events

To get a better idea of the decision-making process behind postponing large-scale events, Will DuPree spoke to Karissa Condoianis, the senior vice president for public affairs for the State Fair of Texas. The fair was canceled for the first time since World War II this year, and generally has about two million visitors each year.

Condoianis said it was an “extremely tough decision” to cancel the fair because it affects so many people, but that “ultimately it’s the right thing to do.”

Besides losing out on the fun of the fair, there’s also a large economic loss to the area — Condoianis said the fair is estimated to bring a $400 million impact to the north Texas economy each year.

She said the original hope was that the pandemic could be brought under control before this year’s fair, and that having it next year may depend on what methods, like a vaccine or medicine, are available.

“The hope is that we can if we all can hold onto that hope that something will change in the coming months and that maybe we can end 2020 and close this chapter and look to 2021 as the year of growth and excitement and to start to get back to maybe the life that we had before this and then all be together celebrating again,” Condoianis said.

Race for a vaccine

Right now, there are more than 160 vaccine development efforts happening across the world, according to Dr. Stephen Thomas, the Infectious Disease division chief at the Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, New York. Forty of those are being tested on human beings, and six are in the final stage of testing, called Phase Three.

“This is where we determine not only the safety of the vaccine but also the vaccine does what it’s supposed to do which in this case would be protect people from COVID,” Dr. Thomas said.

Dr. Thomas’ own hospital is among those who are helping test one of two vaccines that are in Phase 3 testing in the United States. He said there are currently more than 30,000 people participating in a trial for the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine at more than 120 sites around the world. It started enrolling volunteers last week.

“Fortunately, the outpouring of support of the people volunteering has been great,” he said.

Still preparing, but needing help

Meanwhile, many athletes are still operating in hopes of a 2021 Olympic Games, but the delay is creating a financial strain for a number of them.

On the same day that marked one year to the Games again, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee launched the COVID Athlete Assistance Fund to provide a one-time stipend to athletes experiencing financial hardship. The money for the fund comes from donors and fundraising efforts. In a July 29 fundraising email, the USOPC said 75% of athletes have lost income because of the pandemic’s effect on the games.

Team USA Boxer Joe Hicks works at a call center while also balancing training. Even before the pandemic hit, he started a GoFundMe to help raise money to get him to the Olympic trials.

“They still have me going to camp and things like that. So it’s kind of hard for any of us to work,” he told WOOD-TV. “I’m not bringing in what I was bringing in before, so it’s kind of different.”

Hicks plans to start another GoFundMe and take advantage of the new fund.

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