Jon Finnoff, DO, at the Fourth Annual Injury Prevention Symposium, delivered this year online and presented by Steadman Philippon Research Institute and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (April 29, 2020)
Jon Finnoff, D.O., directly followed the keynote speaker and spoke on the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s response to COVID-19. Finnoff, who joined the USOPC on March 2 as its chief medical officer, outlined steps taken by the organization as it faced the obstacles posed by this widespread and often-deadly virus.
After presenting an overview and timeline of COVID-19, Finnoff documented how rapidly the crisis progressed during his first month on the job at the USOPC. As of the end of February, very few cases were documented in the United States, but life-altering changes were coming very quickly.
"I started my job on March 2, but within a week and a half the WHO (World Health Organization) had declared the outbreak a global pandemic and by March 24, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games had been postponed until 2021."
Finnoff and his team spun into action immediately, forming an Infectious Disease Advisory Group on March 5, which included experts in infectious disease control from The Mayo Clinic, Texas Children’s Hospital and the CDC (Center for Disease Control), among others.
Among the first steps taken by the USOPC in response to the recommendations of the advisory group was to educate the staff and develop internal and external communication strategies. All tours of USOPC facilities were halted, no visitors were allowed to the facilities and all staff was encouraged to work remotely, similar to what nearly every major organization has done in response to COVID-19.
Sports medicine procedures were also affected. Initial checkups and data-gathering were done over the phone. If in-person examinations were necessary, "We would don PPE and go over and escort the athlete from their room to our sports medicine center, where we would complete a physical examination and do screenings for common respiratory problems and also administer a COVID-19 test, if warranted," said Finnoff.
When executive orders were initiated to close all training centers in mid-March, the USOPC still had many athletes and staff (185 total at three facilities) on location at the various sites because those also served as their residences.
"Between March 16 and April 23, we had three confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those resident athletes," said Finnoff. "So, essentially, we had high-density living and despite that, we prevented any type of outbreak within our facilities."
In addition to the three cases, the USOPC did quarantine 10 other individuals who had close contact with infected people, but no one tested positive for the disease.
"I felt very positive with the results of our response and how we implemented our infection control procedures," said Finnoff.
The next step for the USOPC centers around the eventual re-opening of training facilities whenever conditions allow. Finnoff outlined procedures for five phases beginning with athletes doing individual training with virtual coaching only and ending with full resumption of full-team workouts with proper distancing guidelines until a vaccine is available.
"COVID-19 hit us hard and fast," said Finnoff. "The response we had was dynamic and multifaceted; it often reacted to changes in public health mandates. We implemented a broad infection control strategy that I felt was very successful, based on a limited number of cases in a high-risk, high-density population.
"We have a very challenging path ahead with respect to re-entry in a post-COVID-19 world," continued Finnoff. "Until we have a vaccine or cure or the virus happens to die out, we are at risk for transmitting this disease. I think we have a good plan in place, but there is no way of eliminating all types of risk."