CORONAVIRUS + REGIONAL COMPETITIONS IN MARCH
Special Olympics Oregon is amid its Winter season competitions and with growing concern over the coronavirus in the U.S. and specifically the Pacific Northwest, it is important that we address our upcoming competitions and events for the health and safety of everyone involved. Like everyone, we are trying to make the best decisions possible based on the information available regarding a rapidly changing public health concern.
REGIONAL COMPETITIONS: MARCH 7-8, MARCH 14-15
With a very small staff, we rely on our network of dedicated, trained volunteers to deliver our mission of sports training and competition in 30 county-based Local Programs across the State. Over the next two weekends, we have basketball and powerlifting regional competitions scheduled to serve 1,200 athletes, Unified partners, and coaches in multiple cities across Oregon that require many delegates to travel several hours by bus to attend.
We have been communicating with our Local Program leaders across the state, our counterparts at several other Special Olympics state Programs (including our neighbors in Washington), as well as seeking guidance from Special Olympics International and their health experts to make the right decisions for the athletes we serve in Oregon. We’ve weighed the actions of schools, other sports programs, and have tried to gather as much qualified information as possible – from the CDC and Oregon public health agencies – to help guide a decision that can have ramifications in either direction.
We have made the very difficult decision to suspend our regional competitions for the weekends of March 7-8 and March 14-15. We do not want to contribute to spreading panic or fear unnecessarily, nor run the risk of compromising the health and safety of anyone involved. Our decision was driven by several things:
• Our competitions require people to travel from all parts of the state to convene in gymnasiums and engage in sport
• We serve a population where many are at a heightened risk (age, compromised immune systems, and/or medically fragile)
• Making judgment calls on who can or who shouldn’t participate is an incredible burden to place on our volunteers and we have no surefire way to guarantee that athletes at a higher risk are held back from attendance
• If any athlete, coach, volunteer or family members were to show up to a competition with symptoms of illness, we cannot guarantee that we could properly quarantine them, especially if it would involve a bus trip home
While canceling events is disappointing for athletes who have trained for months to compete – as well as the volunteers, family, friends and our staff and board who look forward to cheering for them – we know that our love of sport doesn’t compare to the importance of protecting the health of the athletes, which will remain our priority.
Questions will be asked as to whether we are able to reschedule these events and we simply don’t have enough information at this time to make that determination.
LOCAL PROGRAM TRAINING
As it stands today, we are empowering our Local Program leaders to make responsible decisions about training in their own communities. They know their athletes and training in the hometowns is more contained than a regional competition. As news of this virus continues to evolve, we are prepared to make changes to our programming on a moment’s notice to adjust up or down. We thank you in advance for your understanding and cooperation.
The direction we are providing to our Local Program leaders and coaches to protect all athletes is as follows:
• Statistics show that age can be a factor in the susceptibility of any virus, including the coronavirus. Individuals 60 years and older seem to be at a heightened risk and we urge Local Program leaders and coaches to consider whether these athletes should be held back from training and competing for the time being.
• Please do not allow athletes with compromised immune systems or who are more susceptible to getting sick to attend training or locally held competitions.
• If an athlete is showing ANY signs of illness, they should not train or compete, nor should they be around other athletes. The message to all: if you are experiencing symptoms, stay at home!
CDC GUIDELINES + OTHER RESOURCES
With so many news outlets, it can be difficult to know where to turn. Recommendations for information resources that our athletes, families and volunteers can trust are:
• Oregon Health Authority (OHA): OHA - coronavirus
• Center for Disease Control (CDC): CDC - coronavirus
• World Health Organization (WHO): WHO - coronavirus
• National Institute of Health (NIH): NIH - coronavirus
In everyone’s daily life and certainly if our athletes and volunteers are moving forward with any local training programs, we recommend following CDC guidelines for prevention, and the following is from their website:
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including: • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority. • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or bent elbow, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask. o CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. o Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. These people should not attend Special Olympics Oregon events. • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. o If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
• Maintain at least 3 feet distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
Our volunteers – Local Program Coordinators and coaches – are the heart and soul of our organization. We trust you to be vigilant and make good choices on behalf of the people we serve. The risk is still a moving target and we’ll work together to share and analyze new information as it comes available – and will act swiftly to change course if need be. Our staff stands at the ready to assist. Please keep us updated on your plans for practices or gatherings in the coming weeks. Also, keep us posted on any confirmed cases of the coronavirus in your program.
Thank you for your ongoing support of Special Olympics Oregon and the athletes we all serve. We care deeply about you, our volunteers, who we rely on so heavily. Please be as dedicated to caring for your own health and well-being as we know you are for the athletes.
Chief Executive Officer
Special Olympics Oregon