There are plenty of Coronavirus villains to go around right now.
At the top of the list is the nasty virus itself, whether you all it COVID 19 or coronavirus.
Interestingly however, it appears that skiers and snowboarders played a significant role in the spread of the virus worldwide.
And while it’s hard to imagine skiers — stereotypically hale, hearty, healthy and covered head-to-toe in insulating gear, including face masks — as villains in this global drama, we unwittingly were.
Skiers Spread Coronavirus Across Europe
Germany has over 92,000 COVID 19 cases, yet a very low death rate. And while the article goes into detail about why this is so, this is what caught my eye.
“It started as an epidemic of skiers,” explains German Professor Hans-Georg Krausslich, the head of virology at University Hospital in Heidelberg.
As he explains, the average age of Germans infected is lower than in other countries, in part because skiers vacationing in Austria and Italy brought the virus home with them, along with goggle tans.
A similar story line plays out in other European countries.
A google search this morning yields similar results, some dating from mid-February:
- The Austrian Ski Town That Spread Coronavirus Across the Continent
- ‘Ibiza of the Alps’ Ski Resort Blamed for Spread of Coronavirus
- Five Britons in French Ski Chalet Catch Virus
And then there is this news of a class action lawsuit against Austrian authorities who allowed ski resorts to remain open.
As explained by VSV, the Austrian Consumer Protection Agency,
“The global coronavirus pandemic qualifies as force majeure [forced circumstances] and nobody can be held responsible for any damage suffered. However, keeping ski resorts open, even though authorities knew or should have known of a threat of mass infection, is certainly a reason to consider claims for damages.”
As of April 1, 2020 more than 2,500 people who became infected in Austria have joined the suit.
Skiers Spread Coronavirus Across North America
The story in the United States is similar.
- A visitor from Washington state likely brought COVID 19 to Sun Valley where it infected large groups of vacationers, who then spread it across the continent.
- Mexican visitors leaving Vail became among the first people infected in Mexico.
- Mono County, California, home of Mammoth Mountain has one of the highest infection rates in the Golden State. It goes on and on.
And, as we all know, the quick spread — as well as lessons learned in Europe — resulted in the early closing of most North American resorts.
Which, while disappointing, should lead all of us to loudly proclaim, “THANK GOODNESS.”
How Did This Happen? Nose Wipes, Gondolas and Parties
Like many, my world was rocked on March 14 when Governor Polis closed all ski resorts. The best of the season was yet to come, not only in my home state, but in California, New England, the Pacific Northwest and everywhere else where spring skiing is a seasonal institution.
Like many, I couldn’t understand how an individual sport in could result in infection.
Until I read this article yesterday about Sun Valley, Idaho having one of the highest rates of COVID 19 infection in the US, I hadn’t really given it much thought.
And then I wiped my nose.
And while it may sound really gross, I’m pretty sure I wipe my nose on my mittens when skiing many times a day.
And then I grab the chairlift. Or the safety bar.
If I’m planning ahead, I grab a tissue in the lift line, blow my nose and then deposit it in the trash. And then use the same be-mittened hand to grab the lift.
And on, and on, and on.
Suddenly, COVID 19 transmission amongst skiers looked really simple.
Next, I asked my family why they thought coronavirus spread so rapidly throughout ski country.
Their answers included: Riding in stuffy gondolas; sitting hip-to-hip with strangers on chairlifts; partying into the evening and night; sharing hotel rooms and vacation homes (many of which were non-refundable — a major disincentive to cancel a trip); dining out for every meal; touching the button on the water bottle filler in the lodge, and so on.
Our list grew quickly.
What About Travel?
As we contemplated the many, many surfaces we touch each day while skiing, we also considered the national and international mix of people who ski.
Travel is a vector in all pandemics, whether a virus is spreading via birds or planes.
Skiers travel. And so we became carriers, unknowingly transporting the virus from place to place via aircraft, private cars, and resort shuttles.
In every instance cited above, traveling to ski and then traveling back home spread COVID 19.
And while we didn’t mean to become villains, we did.
We are sorry.
Like so many, we simply didn’t know better.
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