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It seems like every day, news is breaking of an Olympic athlete having to pull out of the Tokyo Summer Games due to COVID-19. Tennis star Coco Gauff revealed earlier this week that she won’t be competing after testing positive for the virus. “I am so disappointed,” she said in a statement.
U.S. gymnastics team alternate Kara Eaker and basketball player Katie Lou Samuelson have also had to leave the competition due to positive tests—and there are many more. On July 22, there were 1,979 new positive cases, per the Tokyo Media Center update.
This all raises a huge question: Are Olympics athletes vaccinated? Here’s what you need to know about the vaccination requirements and COVID-19 safety regulations at the Tokyo Games to keep athletes and staff healthy.
What is the International Olympic Committee’s policy on vaccination?
The International Olympic Committee (a.k.a. IOC) specifically addresses the topic of COVID-19 in its playbook for athletes, writing that they are not required to be vaccinated in order to be in the Games. However, the IOC said, athletes are encouraged to get the shot.
The IOC also shared in early May that it was teaming up with vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech to make sure that athletes who want to be vaccinated ahead of the Games can be vaccinated.
What are the Team USA rules around vaccination?
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the organization that supports and oversees Team USA athletes, says on its website that it is “encouraging” athletes to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but isn’t requiring it.
All that encouragement has added up to a large majority of athletes arriving vaccinated. The IOC said in a statement to Vox that "well above" 80% of athletes in Tokyo will be vaccinated. And, an estimated 11,500 athletes and additional 79,000 staff, journalists, and officials are traveling to Japan for the Games, per The Guardian.
How often are Olympic athletes tested for COVID-19?
A lot. Athletes had to submit two negative COVID-19 tests taken within 96 hours before they left for Japan, whether they were vaccinated or not, according to the playbooks, with at least one of the tests taken within 72 hours of departure. They also have to undergo daily antigen tests.
The rules around testing are strict: Athletes who refuse to be tested will be barred from competition.
What are the other COVID-19 safety rules in Tokyo?
They may not be requiring proof of vaccination to toe the starting line, but the IOC has put some pretty strict COVID-19 regulations in place.
Athletes have to stay 6.5 feet away from others, unless they’re on the field.
Handshakes, hugs, and high fives are discouraged.
They can only leave their accommodations to go to official Olympic venues or a few permitted additional locations traveling in dedicated Olympic vehicles.
Face masks are required unless they are eating, drinking, sleeping, training, or competing.
Athletes have a few approved dining spots and eating options, including hotel room service and official catering, available. They also have to eat 6.5 feet away from others or eat by themselves.
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