As COVID-19 cases decline and restrictions on gatherings are relaxed, it may feel like the pandemic is coming to an end to some.
But the virus is still a threat to many in Lane County – 136 people remain infectious, 11 people are hospitalized and six residents have been killed by the virus in the past seven days (as of Thursday). As thousands flock to the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, which began their 10-day run on Friday, TrackTown USA and Lane County Public Health are working to keep the number of cases down.
“It is impossible to completely eliminate the risk,” said Michael Reilly, CEO of the TrackTown USA local organizing committee. “I think the protocols were really put in place to do everything possible to minimize the risk of the virus spreading.”
For the fourth consecutive Olympic cycle, the US track and field team will be determined at Hayward Field on the way to the Tokyo Summer Games in July. The meeting ends on June 27th, with days off Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Olympic Trials were postponed for a year when the 2020 Tokyo Games were postponed due to the pandemic and continue to adhere to certain COVID-19 safety protocols including:
- Capacity limited to 12,650 seats at Hayward Field to under 9,000
- The elimination of the free community festival that took place on the field next to the stadium during previous Olympic trials
- Require athletes and support staff to test before traveling to town, again on arrival and every other day at the event
- Social distancing is required in some areas, and masking is required outside of some specific areas as well.
Event protocols are dictated by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees and local and state COVID-19 guidelines. The event’s grand public safety committee, comprised of representatives from the City of Eugene, Lane County, the state, the University of Oregon, and other agencies, has been in existence since the first Olympic Trials in 2008.
“Ordinarily, we would have a rather authoritative role in (safety protocols),” said Jason Davis, Lane County’s public health spokesman. “But now that COVID has crept into every facet of our lives, many of these organizations have pretty good institutional knowledge.”
Public health helped ensure that public health considerations were taken into account at the event, such as: Participants must wear masks at the event, unless they eat or drink food or sit on the vaccinated seating area, after proof of vaccination.
An athlete and a non-competitor tested positive for COVID-19 in the test logs prior to the event leading up to the US Olympic Track & Field Trials, USA Track and Field announced on Saturday morning.
Both people who tested positive were asymptomatic and fully vaccinated. They were immediately included in the isolation record. Contact tracing was carried out and no other participants in the Olympic Trials were affected.
USA Track and Field said in an email on Saturday that it could not provide any further details about the positive tests.
USA Track and Field is using Premier Medical Group for COVID-19 tests during the studies and estimates that 12,000 tests will be completed within the 13-day period.
Free COVID-19 testing will be available in the Mathew Knight Arena at various times Monday through Thursday.
Community tests:Register for a free COVID-19 test at the University of Oregon
“Some people may see this as an exaggeration, we have little risk,” said Davis. “If COVID has taught us one thing, it is that we need to take a closer look at how we can maintain our health and track our health at major events.”
Nearly a year and a half into the pandemic, many Lane County tourism companies want to see as few cases as possible if they stay at their facilities, Davis said.
Olympic exams:View event schedule
However, there is still a very good chance that COVID could spread across the community, he warned.
“We still have more than 40% of our community unvaccinated and at risk of contracting COVID, 99% of our cases in our hospital are currently unvaccinated and 100% of our recent deaths are unvaccinated,” said Davis. “That puts 40% at risk. We must do our part to try to protect them and the people who come to Lane County.”
Chris Hansen and Ashley Conklin contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at Tatiana@registerguard.com or 541-521-7512 and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT. Do you want more stories like this one? Subscribe to to get full access and support local journalism.