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Japanese study finds 1 case of COVID-19 linked to running

Of the close to 700,000 people involved in 787 races since July, there has only been one reported case of coronavirus

A recent article from Japan Running News (JRN) looks at a study conducted by the Japanese Association of Athletics Federations (JAAF) that found almost no reported cases of COVID-19 that could be linked to in-person running races. The study looked at 787 races and track meets held around Japan since July 1, and researchers only found one documented case of someone involved in an event who tested positive for coronavirus in the two weeks following their race. 

The JAAF study 

The JRN article summarizes the JAAF study (which is in Japanese), which looked at the nearly 800 races held in Japan from July 1 (when races were officially permitted to run again) until October 4. Researchers conducted surveys of 53 organizations, from the JAAF itself to corporate and collegiate leagues, and in total, 571,401 athletes and 98,035 officials and staff were accounted for across the 787 races. 

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One reported case doesn’t mean there weren’t other cases that went unreported or that were asymptomatic, but the results are still impressive. On Twitter, JRN clarifies that, while this news is positive, the “study shouldn’t be misinterpreted,” and in no way does this data mean all outdoor activities or races are inherently safe. 

STWM 2019 race start. Photo: Maxine Gravina
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“Keep in mind that almost all road races have been canceled [in Japan] since March,” one tweet reads. “All of the races in this study were held under strict COVID protocols, most were in controlled-access track facilities, and [two thirds] of them were held without spectators.” The thread continues, “While it shows there’s almost no risk in controlled outdoor environments with strict protocols in place, I think it’s wise to be a little cautious about how far to extrapolate toward saying outdoor sports pose no risk.”

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What this means 

While this doesn’t mean the global running community can get back to business as usual and recommence holding mass participation events, the news is a good sign. We might not be able to race in events as large as the NYC, London or Boston marathons anytime soon, but if organizers can put proper COVID-19 guidelines in place and take the appropriate safety measures for their events, more and more smaller races could continue to make a comeback in Canada without posing much of a risk to participants.