The US Open welcomed nearly 750,000 fans to its grounds in 2019 over its two weeks, and comparable numbers are expected to attend this year.
But two years ago there was no coronavirus pandemic. Last year the tournament went without fans, and this year the United States Tennis Association will see them return to what could be one of the busiest mass gatherings in New York City since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
With the tournament set to begin in earnest on Monday, the USTA released protocols for fans and players on Tuesday, and policies are much more relaxed than they were last year.
No proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test will be required for fans to enter the pitch, and no masks will be required when they are outside. It is “recommended” that unvaccinated fans wear masks outdoors, according to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Much of the event takes place outdoors and the two indoor stadiums – Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong – will also be seen outdoors, even though the roofs are closed. That’s because stadium ventilation systems are considered adequate, according to USTA officials.
Brian Hainline, a physician and member of the USTA Medical Advisory Board who is also the Chief Medical Officer of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said the protocols for fans and players were developed with the approval and consultation of New York City health officials.
“Sometimes we go beyond what New York City recommends,” said Dr. Hainline, “but what we never do is not inferior to what the city of public health authorities. New York recommend. “
Players will be granted more freedom of movement than last year, when many complained about the isolation because they were held in a Long Island hotel. All players will be tested upon arrival and then tested every four days thereafter. If they are positive, they will have to withdraw from the tournament, regardless of the stage of the event, according to Stacey Allaster, the tournament director.
The player should also self-isolate for 10 days in their hotel or accommodation.
The main draw begins on Monday, but the qualifying rounds started on Tuesday, with no fans. Traditionally, the qualifying event attracts many local tennis enthusiasts, who can attend for free. This is not the case this year, because with so many players on site at once, additional space was needed on the pitch to accommodate them without crushing everyone in the same dressing rooms.
But once the main event kicks off, it will be almost business as usual, with maskless fans wandering the pitch and sitting next to each other, much like it was with the two baseball teams from New York, the Mets and the Yankees.
Dr Hainline said part of the strategy behind the relatively loose protocols was derived from monitoring the situation at the two baseball stadiums, which opened to capacity in June.
Fans without proof of vaccination will be required to wear masks when eating or shopping indoors and must take food outside to eat.
Dr Hainline added that while the masks would not be required for unvaccinated fans outdoors, he encouraged those who have not been vaccinated to wear them during the tournament. But he also knows that not all will be and that not all transmissions of the virus can be avoided during a huge event like the US Open.
“The goal is not to prevent a single infection,” he said. “The goal is to prevent an outbreak and a rise, and New York City has been very stable. And we will continue to monitor and follow the advice of our health authorities. “
Unvaccinated players are encouraged to wear masks everywhere when not training or competing. If they come into close contact with someone with the coronavirus, they will need to self-quarantine. Vaccinated players may not have to quarantine themselves after such contact, as recommended by tournament medics. This means that an unvaccinated player who has not tested positive, but has been in close contact with someone who has, may have to withdraw from the tournament.
The USTA said it still collects data on the number of players vaccinated, but Dr Hainline said that number was well below the 85% rate he said NCAA student-athletes in all sports had achieved. Last week Stefanos Tsitsipas, the third player on the men’s tour, said he had not been vaccinated and saw no reason for people his age (he is 23) to be.
Dr Hainline, clearly trying to be diplomatic, rejected Tsitsipas’ reasoning and pointed out that the Delta variant which spreads across the world affects young people more than earlier forms of the virus.
“I appreciate what he says,” Dr Hainline said of Tsitsipas, “but it is not based on the most informed information we have. It is not based on the evidence we have. have.
This year, players will be staying at two hotels in Midtown Manhattan, as opposed to a more isolated hotel on Long Island, where most were staying last year. Allaster said tournament organizers heard “loud and clear” from players that the isolation – not only at last year’s event, but throughout 2020 – was hard to bear. The protocols therefore allow a certain flexibility outside the venue of the event. Players can book tables in restaurants, attend theatrical events and mingle with the general public. Allaster said New York’s vaccination rates and advice from public health officials gave the USTA assurances that tournament protocols would be sufficient. But visitors from all over the world, not just New York, regularly attend the US Open.
“Each of us, every day, lives with the virus,” she said. “So it’s our collective responsibility for how we do it, with the protocols in place.”