The Tokyo Olympics officially open for business Friday, but the run-up to the Games has already been dominated by the ever-present threat of COVID-19. Athletes who test positive at any point will miss the chance to compete, meaning the pandemic retains the power to upend any of the Olympic competitions at any point. On Wednesday, the first American athlete set to compete in the Games tested positive in Japan, when USA Volleyball confirmed men’s beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb had received a positive test and was in quarantine. The 29-year-old California native and his partner Jake Gibb were scheduled to play Italy in their opening match Sunday.
It’s not known whether Crabb had been vaccinated ahead of the Games. Vaccination is not required for Olympic athletes, though it is strongly encouraged, and the International Olympic Committee estimates 80 percent of Olympic and Paralympic Village residents would be vaccinated. As expected, the rules are quite strict for participating athletes, though there is some discretion left to Japanese health authorities. There will be lots of testing and required mask-wearing, along with a minimum three-day isolation period upon athletes’ arrival in Japan. Crabb, a first-time Olympian, appears to have tested positive over the weekend shortly after arriving, and has been moved to a designated quarantine hotel.
What happens next isn’t totally clear, though it is a near certainty that Crabb will miss the Games. The Olympic COVID guidelines state that any athlete who tests positive “will not be allowed to compete/continue [their] role.” The quarantine period “will be determined by the Japanese health authorities, depending on the severity and symptoms of [the] infection,” the guidelines state. “[Athletes] will be discharged in accordance with the discharge guidelines in Japan.” That means that Crabb will need to be replaced by an alternate, which is expected to be Tri Bourne, who arrived in Japan Wednesday.
Complicating matters is the Olympic protocol on close contacts of each athlete who tests positive, which in some cases could require teammates to isolate even if they haven’t tested positive themselves. The IOC leaves significant wiggle room in its contact tracing scheme such that it has discretion to increase monitoring of an athlete listed as a close contact without requiring quarantine. A “close contact” is defined by the IOC as someone who has spent at least 15 minutes with “a confirmed positive COVID-19 test, within one meter, without wearing a face mask, from the two days before the person’s symptoms appeared to when they were tested and started isolating.” It’s not known what Crabb’s contact with his teammates was like after arriving in Tokyo.
A Reuters tally puts the number of people connected to the Olympics who have tested positive for the coronavirus at 80 so far, including a half-dozen athletes. Two other American athletes have tested positive: Gymnastics alternate Kara Eaker, who was not scheduled to compete, tested positive in Japan, and tennis star Coco Gauff tested positive in the U.S. before heading to the Games.