Usually the U.S. Open is just about super tennis. Now it’s trying to avoid being a super spreader.
When the two-week tourney starts Monday in Flushing Meadows, health is going to be the priority, both mental and physical.
Players will get COVID-19 tests upon arrival, and again every four days with a positive result forcing a withdrawal.
Whereas Wimbledon required proof of negative tests and asked fans to wear masks around the grounds, the U.S. Open will do neither. Despite cases spiking due to the Delta variant, fans won’t have to be vaccinated or wear masks outdoors at Flushing Meadows.
With local vaccination rates around 70 percent, they’re banking on their protocols and common sense to keep the tourney from becoming a super-spreader.
“This is not a USTA decision or a U.S. Open decision, this is a decision made with New York City. Of course, we’ve been tracking what’s been happening at the baseball games and other events,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, a U.S. Tennis Association first vice president. “The goal is not to prevent a single infection: The goal is to prevent an outbreak and an uptick.
“We’re still relying on the goodwill of people. The unvaccinated, although it’s not going to be enforced, really should be wearing masks. … It’s like any other aspect of New York City, going to the baseball game, you make an informed decision. But based on all the data we have — we believe the current policy makes good sense in terms of avoiding any sort of a regional outbreak as a result of this event.”
Fans won’t have to wear masks in Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong even when the roofs are closed, because both are considered outdoor venues. Players won’t be sequestered like last year (although 75 percent will be at one of the two designated hotels) and the USTA had no figures on how many were vaccinated.
Third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas clearly isn’t among them, saying he wasn’t vaccinated and had no reason to because he wasn’t old.
“Look, that’s the dilemma of what we call emerging adults and our young adults. … They look at an individual risk profile of the vaccine vs. having the disease itself,” Hainline said. “Whereas I appreciate what he’s saying, it’s not based on the most informed information that we have.
“There are two important viewpoints. One is the emerging information we have on the Delta variant and how it’s affecting the young: The other is really looking at it from a public good point of view.”
Also for the greater good, the USTA will give players access to mental health providers and quiet rooms, after reigning champ Naomi Osaka brought attention to mental health issues.
“Our goal is to make mental health services as readily available to athletes as services for a sprained ankle,” Dr. Hainline said, “and with no stigma attached.”
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