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How COVID 19 affects us climbers

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With the spring climbing season right around the corner, you may be wondering how the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak will affect the lives of climbers...

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As an ER doctor working on the front-lines of healthcare in Vancouver, BC, I'm seeing an increasing number of patients who are concerned about the virus. Many climbers that I have spoken with aren’t sure if they should be excited to get back on their outdoor project or to be worried about getting infected. Below is a summary of the current situation and how it may affect the lives of climbers.


How does the virus spread?

Over the past 2 weeks, COVID-19 has spread to over 90 countries and we’re starting to see more cases in Canada and the USA, as more testing is performed. The virus is primarily spread by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can become infected by inhaling these droplets or if your contaminated hands touch your face or mouth. 


How risky is the virus to young/healthy climbers?

Based on the available data, people under the age of 50 who have no pre-existing medical conditions need not be overly concerned. People in this group often experience milder symptoms such as fever, cough, and muscle-aches with less than 0.5% chance of death. 

However, the risk of severe illness requiring hospitalization or resulting in death significantly increases if you are over the age of 50 or have pre-existing medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart or lung disease. Because the risk of spread is higher in crowded areas, businesses and services may temporarily shut down if there is a local outbreak. Unfortunately, this would also include climbing gyms.


What can you do to protect your community and loved ones?

  • Wash your hands frequently 
  • Avoid crowded areas 
  • If you are feeling sick:
    • Do not go to the gym or climbing area
    • Stay home and self-isolate.
    • Do not come to the ER unless you feel severely ill, you are having difficulty breathing, or you aren’t coping well at home. ER and clinic waiting rooms are crowded and the risk of giving or receiving the virus in that environment is high. 
    • Cough into your sleeve or arm (not your hands)

Does wearing a mask protect you?

No. Surgical masks will prevent your own respiratory droplets from spreading to those around you but they do not offer significant protection against getting the virus from others. N95 respirators only work if they are custom fit for your face. So in other words, only wear a mask if you are coughing or you’re sick.

Don’t panic or discriminate. North America is receiving viral spread from all over the world (not only Asia and the Middle-East). This is a global issue and racism is neither constructive nor justified.


What does this mean for the climbing season?

Local outbreaks may result in:

  • Closure of climbing gyms
  • Restricted access to outdoor climbing areas
  • Cancelling, postponing, or changing the location of climbing competitions (this may include the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where climbing is to debut)

In summary, most climbers who are young and healthy will likely have flu-like symptoms with a very low risk of serious harm or death if they become infected with COVID-19. However, the risk of spreading the virus to higher-risk populations, such as the elderly or people with pre-existing medical conditions, may cause disruptions in services like climbing gyms and access to climbing areas if there is a local outbreak.  

You can rest assured that hospitals around the world are sharing ideas of how to best prepare for an outbreak. We will get through this together and I am hopeful that there will be ample opportunities for you to send your projects and to continue exploring beautiful areas while pursuing your vertical passion.

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Jeff Yoo Climbing Athlete

Jeff Yoo is a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team. 

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3/9/2020 3:21 PM


Posted in Climbing By Jeff Yoo

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