In effort to curb COVID, Tokyo Olympics collect lots of spit

Jul 29, 2021, 10:53 AM | Updated: Jul 30, 2021, 6:39 pm
Plastic vials for testing the coronavirus infection sit on a table at the Main Press Center for the...

Plastic vials for testing the coronavirus infection sit on a table at the Main Press Center for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. About 30,000 people are spitting into tiny plastic vials every day at the Tokyo Olympics in a routine that’s grown crucial in going ahead with the pandemic-era Games. (AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

TOKYO (AP) — They spit. They wait. They hope.

About 30,000 people from scores of nations are spitting into tiny plastic vials at the Olympics in a daily routine that’s grown crucial in going ahead with the pandemic-era Games, according to organizers.

If you do the math for the two-week duration of the Olympics, that adds up to a half million saliva samples collected for athletes, who get tested daily, as well as other venues, in an extraordinary effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections. At about 1 milliliter per sample, that would be … well, a lot of spit.

In contrast, such tests have long been hard to find for the general Japanese public. Japan is unique among developed nations in having discouraged widespread testing for the coronavirus.

The thousands of samples of collected spit are stored in tubes and identified by a barcode then all go through preliminary tests. Those with dubious results go through another round of testing, according to Olympic organizers’ “Playbook,” which outlines anti-COVID-19 measures.

The tests are being done at a facility called the Fever Clinic, which also cares for and isolates infected people within the so-called “Olympic bubble.” Once a COVID-19 infection is identified or suspected, “close contacts” also are tested to identify others who may be ill — a whack-a-mole process done under controlled conditions. Organizers wouldn’t comment on the number of people working at the clinic or the specific arrangements.

These tests don’t require sticking a swab up one’s nose, another widespread method of testing for the coronavirus.

The tests for athletes, team officials, media and others affiliated with the Games are free to those submitting them, although they are estimated to cost about 10,000 yen ($100) each, medical say experts. Tests for members of the Japanese public generally cost about that much, sometimes more.

Some medical experts have expressed worries about the Olympics turning into a “super-spreader” event. Daily coronavirus cases surged in Tokyo to a record, topping 3,000 people this week.

Takanori Teshima, professor at Hokkaido University, who helped develop the tests used in Japan, including those at airports, says the constant and careful testing of Olympians means the risks lie mostly in the general public making the athletes sick, not the other way around.

“As you know, not all people are going to listen and stay isolated. And so doing tests upon tests is the best way,” he said. “But this is possible only because it’s the Olympics. It’s unrealistic to think this method can continue as a routine.”

Shosuke Takeuchi, a doctor and director of Take Clinic Shimbashi, one of Tokyo’s biggest coronavirus testing locations, acknowledged voluntary testing can be limited in stopping the sickness from spreading because people whose living habits make them the most contagious are precisely the kind of people who won’t seek testing.

The avid testing at the Olympics has led to shortages and some national teams recently complained their testing kits hadn’t arrived. Organizers scrambled to provide additional kits.

So far, 23 athletes, as well as others working at the Games, including Japanese residents, such as security officials, have tested positive, totaling 225 people overall, as of Friday. But the rate for testing positive at the Olympics has still been relatively low, at 0.02% for July, because more than 340,000 tests have been carried out so far, according to the Tokyo organizers.

And the places where COVID-19 appear to be spreading the most are the crowded streets of Tokyo, not the zealously tested Olympic venues, Teshima and other medial experts say.

Masaharu Isobe, professor at the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Toyama, who has developed a speedy COVID antigen test, says regular testing may eventually become more common for everyone.

“The point is to locate infected people as soon as possible and prevent them from spreading it around everywhere,” he said.

Still, reflecting widespread opinion, Masaru Kaneko, an economist and honorary professor at Keio University, says it’s unfair such tests are being given by the day to Olympians but remain hard to get for regular people.

Japanese Olympians and staff have also been given priority in getting vaccinated, while the rollout for regular people has lagged, at about a fourth of the population fully vaccinated so far, Kaneko said on his Twitter account.

“Equality as far as the right to life is not guaranteed in Japan,” he said.

Testing someone every day is a troublesome and costly effort, and, at the Olympics, it’s a special government-backed endeavor, Teshima said.

“It is a big contradiction,” he said. “Why just the athletes?”

___

Follow Tokyo-based Associated Press journalist Yuri Kageyama on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama. More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to local media at the front of McConnell Elementary School on Wednesday, Aug. ...
Associated Press

Third judge blocks Gov. Lee’s mask opt out in schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A third federal judge has blocked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s order allowing families to opt out of school mask mandates. The decision, handed down by U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw late Friday, is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle over Lee’s order launched by parents and advocates alarmed over […]
1 day ago
Vehicle debris are mixed with torn road sections of Mississippi Highway 26, in the Crossroads commu...
Associated Press

Mississippi gets ready to repair highway collapse from Ida

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi will soon start rebuilding a section of highway that collapsed during torrential rainfall brought by Hurricane Ida, the head of the state Department of Transportation says. Two people were killed and nine were injured Aug. 30 as seven vehicles plunged, one after another, into a deep pit that opened up […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this May 6, 2021 file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election ar...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: As Arizona election ‘audit’ ends, new ones begin

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The most closely watched attempt by Republicans to examine the 2020 presidential election in a battleground state lost by former President Donald Trump is coming to an embarrassing end in Arizona, but their efforts are cranking up elsewhere. The most recent is in Republican-controlled Texas, where the secretary of state’s office […]
1 day ago
DUNMORE, Pa. (AP) — Four teenagers have been charged with a plot to attack a Pennsylvania hig...
Associated Press

4 accused of plotting school attack on Columbine anniversary

DUNMORE, Pa. (AP) — Four teenagers have been charged with a plot to attack a Pennsylvania high school in 2024, on the 25th anniversary of the massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School, authorities said. A 15-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy are charged as adults and two other teenagers face juvenile charges in the plan to […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response an...
Associated Press

Biden risks losing support from Democrats amid DC gridlock

NEW YORK (AP) — President Joe Biden is losing support among critical groups in his political base as some of his core campaign promises falter, raising concerns among Democrats that the voters who put him in office may feel less enthusiastic about returning to the polls in next year’s midterm elections. In just the past […]
1 day ago
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at Uni...
Associated Press

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

NEW YORK (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t directly mention Pakistan or China in his Saturday speech to the United Nations General Assembly, but the targets of his address were clear. He called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan and said that it was imperative the […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...
By Alaska Airlines

Calling all football fans: follow Russell on the road

Take your Northwest spirit that we’re known for on the road this season with Alaska Airlines.
...
By Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
In effort to curb COVID, Tokyo Olympics collect lots of spit