LOS ANGELES (CNS) - County health officials and race organizers said today that they have taken steps to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus during Sunday's Los Angeles Marathon, including deferring entrants from countries deemed to have a high risk of exposure to the disease.
Health officials said the risk to exposure at the local marathon is ``low'' at this time.
``All Los Angeles Marathon weekend activities are scheduled to take place as planned,'' a recent statement from the Los Angeles Marathon read. ``Safety is always our first priority and our operations team has been in consistent dialogue with local authorities and monitoring developments related to all safety aspects of the marathon, including coronavirus.''
Marathon officials said they deferred entries for people who live in countries where the U.S. Department of State has issued a ``do not travel to'' advisory, although they said it was a ``very small number'' of entrants, about 0.06% of the field. Entrants with a home address in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy, South Korea and Iran have been deferred.
Murphy Reinschreiber, the chief operating officer for The McCourt Foundation, which runs the marathon, said the deferrals will be honored for next year's race.
``We continue to follow the guidance of local, state and federal authorities, including the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and State Department to implement any necessary plans and protocols for the marathon. Runner safety is paramount and will continue to be our top priority,'' Reinschreiber said.
Marathon officials said they will work with Unified LA, which coordinates the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, fire and police departments and all municipal partners during the marathon.
On race day, officials said they will have an increased number of hand-
sanitizer stations at the race expo, start line, along the route and finish festival. They are also telling participants to follow public safety measures, including frequently washing their hands, using hand sanitizer and to stay home if they feel ill.
``We are not currently recommending the suspension of any large public events, including the Los Angeles Marathon,'' said Barbara Ferrer, the county Director of Public Health. ``The public can continue to enjoy all that Los Angeles County has to offer, including this historic event. However, we do want people to take enhanced measures to protect themselves from the spread of respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19; this includes staying home if you are sick and frequently washing your hands.''
The DPH also told people who plan to watch the race to stay at home if they are sick, and they said participants in the race should take precautions as minor as shaking hands with other athletes.
City Councilman Mike Bonin said on Wednesday that he was concerned about the potential spread of the virus at the Los Angeles Marathon, and he questioned whether the county would have the authority to shut it down if necessary.
According to the marathon's website, more than 27,000 athletes from all 50 states and more than 78 countries will set out from Dodger Stadium in an effort to reach the finish line in Santa Monica.
``I know other cities have canceled or modified their marathons ... some others have basically canceled marathons except for elite runners,'' Bonin said.
The DPH on Wednesday confirmed there were seven cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the county.
Dr. Muntu Davis, the officer of the county's DPH, told the council that people are being screened at airports, and if they show symptoms, they will be quarantined and won't be able to participate in the race. He also said the county has been working with the marathon's organizers.
``When we look at the relatively small number of cases inside of the United States, the risk of exposure for those who are (in Los Angeles) to this virus is relatively low,'' Davis said. ``With that said, ... we are strongly encouraging anybody -- wherever venue you want to go to, whatever events you're going to do -- if you are ill, stay home so you don't potentially expose others.''
Davis acknowledged many conferences and other large gatherings have been canceled throughout the state by their organizers, not government officials. Most people who have been affected by the coronavirus have a recent history of traveling to countries where the virus levels have been high.
Davis said sometimes health departments cancel events when there are ``known risks,'' but he said that given the numbers they are seeing, the CDC has kept the risk level at ``low.''
The city and county of Los Angeles and the state of California declared a state of emergency on the coronavirus outbreak Wednesday.
Marathon officials said they would provide updates via email Twitter, Facebook and the race website, lamarathon.com.