Health Department: No evidence yet of COVID spread at Ironman Lake Placid

An Ironman Lake Placid triathlete gives a thumbs up prior to the swim portion of the 2014 race. (Enterprise photo — Andy Flynn)

The Essex County Health Department has not confirmed any new cases of COVID-19 connected to the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon, a representative of the department said Tuesday.

The triathlon — one of the biggest events of the summer, and one of the first to test newly revised local safety protocols for sporting events — drew nearly 2,000 athletes from all around the world to Lake Placid last week, plus thousands of volunteers and spectators.

Race day was July 25 — a few days before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the findings of a new study that showed unlike other variants of the coronavirus, the Delta variant can be spread by anyone, including those who are vaccinated. The Delta variant is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the U.S. The vast majority of new coronavirus infections are among unvaccinated people. It’s rare for vaccinated people to get “breakthrough” infections, but when it happens, the vaccines largely prevent serious illness, according to the Associated Press. The CDC says large outdoor sporting events are “safe” for vaccinated people, but the “least safe” type of activity for unvaccinated people.

Essex County Health Department Program Coordinator Andrea Whitmarsh said it would be “really hard to say” when any cases tied to Ironman would be found, if there are any. She said it would depend on a variety of factors, such as how long the athletes, volunteers and spectators were in Essex County, where they came from, when they would become contagious enough to spread the virus and when people might develop symptoms.

If there is any impact directly tied to the event, Whitmarsh said, “We might start seeing it before two weeks,” it’s been less than two weeks since race day, but whether the triathlon resulted in a cluster of cases or not “might take a couple more weeks to play out.”

“Hopefully, most were vaccinated and/or used other prevention measures,” she said.

Ironman participants were not required to be vaccinated, but unvaccinated people had to provide proof of a negative test result within 72 hours of the event. That’s in line with rules established by the Lake Placid village board and North Elba Town Council on June 30, about a month before race day. Before that, the village and town had asked organizers of large sporting events to require vaccinations for all participants.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their final dose of a vaccine. With a two-shot vaccine, such as those made by Pfizer and Moderna, there’s a waiting period of about a month between doses. A person who wanted to be fully vaccinated before race day would’ve had to get their first vaccine dose in May or early June, before the local guidance was revised, allowing unvaccinated participants to attend.

There are a few large-scale sporting events in Lake Placid coming up. The Lake Placid Summit Classic lacrosse tournament is happening now and the Lake Placid Marathon & Half is returning on Sept. 12.

Cases rising

The number of new cases of COVID-19 found each week in Essex County has been rising over the past few weeks. On July 1, the county had just one positive case; on July 22, there were 12 active cases; on July 29, the county reported 18 active cases.

On Tuesday, the county Health Department announced 10 new positive cases found since this past Thursday — three of those in North Elba — bringing the total number of active cases to 12.

North Elba continues to see the highest number of new cases, as it has for most of the pandemic. North Elba — which includes the village of Lake Placid, part of the village of Saranac Lake and the hamlet of Ray Brook — has the highest population of any town in Essex County.

The county’s current active cases have come from coronavirus transmission between family members or close community contacts, not at any one event or gathering, according to Whitmarsh.

As of Tuesday, countywide, 61.8% of the population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state Department of Health. Altogether, 58.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

In neighboring Franklin County, the county Health Department reported one new positive case on Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases to four. Because of the low number of cases, the county Health Department is no longer regularly updating its map showing where active cases are located.

In Franklin County, as of Tuesday, 50.4% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the DOH. Altogether, 51.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Essex County residents interested in getting vaccinated against COVID-19 can visit www.co.essex.ny.us/health/make-an-appointment to find dates and times for vaccine clinics run by the county Health Department. Franklin County residents can call 518-481-1710 for more information about where to get vaccinated. Vaccine appointments can also be made at many local pharmacies.


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