COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Tokyo 2020 in 2021? That’s still the plan from the International Olympic Committee. But there is still plenty to figure out, including whether it is safe enough to hold the Olympics as the world continues to go through the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of positive cases are growing each day. As of October, there have been more than 40 million cases globally and more than 8.2 million cases in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. And more than 1.1 million people have died globally.
NBC News Senior Medical Correspondent Dr. John Torres has been following the progress of the coronavirus from the beginning. As most medical experts, he is worried about the rise in cases we’ve seen both nationally and internationally.
“Globally, we’ve taken a bit of a step back in the fight against coronavirus. Things looked like they were doing fairly well in certain parts of the world, especially in Europe, but once things started re-opening, once people started getting out and getting together again, those cases started to creep up and started to surge up, even right here in the United States,” Torres said.
“As we start to get into our cold weather months, you’re going to see more cases of coronavirus. The difference is we have a better understanding of how to handle it and a better understanding of how to shut down things and what we need to shut down to keep it under control.”
Much of the focus as it pertains to the coronavirus is the progression of a vaccine. Some countries have already started to distribute their vaccines while in the United States, the timeline is not as clear.
“So what they’re talking about is probably having a vaccine here in the U.S. available sometime in the beginning of the year, maybe springtime, but remember, there are going to be phased-in distributions because you can’t give 330 million people in the U.S. vaccines all on day one,” Torres said.
“Now switching to globally, they’re a little further ahead in the vaccine as far as getting it distributed and getting vaccines to people. Russia and China are doing that already. But using our safety measures, we would never do that at this stage. And so it seems they are ahead of where we are, we’re not exactly sure how safe and effective that vaccine they are using is and whether that is something we would use here at this point.”
IOC chairman Thomas Bach has signaled that the Olympics could be staged successfully without a vaccine, pointing to other sporting events like the Tour de France that finished its competition during the pandemic. Dr. Torres agrees with Bach, pointing to other prevention measures to help contain any potential spread.
“It’s possible they could do the Olympics without a vaccine, but they’re going to have to be very, very careful and very stringent with athletes and the officials because one case there could ruin the whole Olympics for many, many athletes and officials. And it could essentially cancel the Olympics,” said Torres.
“The vaccine is not going to end the pandemic. It’s one tool we have to ending the pandemic. And using that along with face masks, social distancing, hand-washing, those tools we know work are going to be the key to getting this under control so without the vaccine, you can still get it under control but you have to monitor that human behavior.”
With more than 8 months until the rescheduled opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23, 2021, optimism remains high among athletes that they will get a chance to compete. Same goes for the IOC and officials in Japan, who have said repeatedly that they will not postpone the Games again.
Torres thinks the example set by American sports leagues and those around the world also provide the IOC plenty of information they can use on what works and doesn’t work as far as staging the Games. He also believes everything should be on the table, from mandatory testing, mask wearing, restricting fans and creating a “bubble” of sorts to keep everyone safe.
“I’m very confident that we’ll be able to see the Olympics in July and August 2021 for a couple reasons. One, because they’ve postponed them a year and we’ve learned a lot about the virus and how to handle it,” said Torres. “And two, it’s one of those symbols that’s going to show us that yes, we’re getting through, we’re getting back to at least a new normal and it’s something that we can all look forward to and give the whole world confidence that together, we will get through the pandemic.”