As athletes, reporters and fans from around the world gather in South Korea ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, officials in Pyeongchang face their own unique challenges as they try to keep a lid on a norovirus outbreak that has infected at least 128 people.
According to the New York Times, the threat of a disruptive illness during the anticipated games has prompted organizers to take a number of steps in their effort to stop its spread.
Anyone coming within the perimeter of the buffet in the athletes’ cafeteria, for example, is required to receive the hand sanitizer now prevalent throughout the community.
In addition to an abundance of the ethanol mixture in facilities throughout the village, officials are widely distributing information about the virus through posters and fliers printed in multiple languages.
As illustrated in a cartoon featuring Soohorang, the white tiger serving as the 2018 Olympic mascot, much of the literature focuses on the importance of proper hygiene.
Reports indicate roughly 1,200 security personnel were quarantined earlier this week after dozens reported gastrointestinal symptoms consistent with the norovirus.
According to a statement from the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, the guards were replaced by 900 military personnel, who “will be responsible for security checks of the 20 venues as they take up jobs such as security searches, previously done by civilian safety personnel, until the patients’ condition is normalized.”
In an attempt to stem growing concern, officials are urging locals to remain calm.
“You don’t need to go running out of the room if somebody sneezes,” said Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Dr. Park Kisoo.
Despite reassurances from organizers, athletes and others in the village recognize the possibility that the outbreak could spread.
Reporters noted palpable hesitation in the movements of those around them, with fewer handshakes, more hand washing and a general aversion to anyone who sneezes.
U.S. speed skater Mitchell Whitmore confirmed that their accommodations include plenty of supplies in preparation for the worst.
“We’ve got every germ-killing thing that you can have, just in case, and we’ve got masks if it gets bad enough,” he said.
Another American athlete noted that there is some disagreement between experts offering advice on which products are actually beneficial.
Curler Matt Hamilton said he is listening to his U.S. Olympic Committee physician, who “said that the antibacterial spray does not kill the norovirus.”
Instead, Hamilton said the doctor advised him to “soap up” regularly with Ivory soap.
No athletes have yet reported symptoms of the illness, though some say it would not prevent them from pursuing the goal that led them to Pyeongchang.
“If Michael Jordan can play through the flu, I can race with the virus,” Whitmore said. “If I break my leg, I’m still racing.”
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