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Managing Communications and Cancellations in the Face of Coronavirus


As race directors and event participants monitor the status of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. and abroad, many are wondering, what to do if an event is cancelled due to the spread of the virus.  The RRCA offers the following guidance for both participants and race directors.

For participants, it is important to review the event’s refund policy.  Most often, race organizers have a no refund policy that you agree to during the registration process.  Race participants are encouraged to respect an event’s stated refund policy, and understand that if an event gets cancelled due to a public health crisis, that situation is completely out of the control of race organizers.  No race organizer wants to cancel an event, but if public health officials require cancellation, organizers must follow this directive.  If a participant has purchased some type of cancellation insurance (Allianz policy through registration), it is important to read and understand the fine print for coverage.  In the case of a public health crisis or pandemic, these types of policies most likely will not provide coverage/refunds in the event of a cancellation or if a participant elects not to participate.

As a participant, fear of a disease epidemic is not considered a good enough reason for race cancellation insurance to cover, if you elect not to participate.  The same holds true if a race proceeds, and you fear participating, you should not expect a refund from organizers if you elect not to attend.

Keep in mind, when a race is forced to cancel due to severe weather, civil unrest, pandemics, and more, organizers have already committed to financial outlays for items such as shirts, medals, and other costs they cannot get refunded from their vendors.  Participants need to understand that the Coronavirus has disrupted the supply chain for items such as finisher medals and shirts.  If a race is unable to provide these items that were marketed to participants, organizers are at the mercy of disruption in global supply chain issues.  Be kind to your race organizers and understand it is not their intention to delay providing finisher items to participants.  

If you run in events in the coming months, be a good health steward.  Don’t show up if you are feeling ill or have flu-like symptoms.  Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after using the port-a-john.   DO NOT spit or “farmer blow” your nose in public – bring along tissues or a small towel or a good old fashioned hanky if you need to get rid of some snot during the race.  Carry your own fluids to avoid contact with others on course.

For race directors, it is important to keep participants informed about the fact that your organization is in contact with local health department officials and you are monitoring the situation.  With that noted, it is imperative for all event organizers to get in touch with local health officials to discuss mass participation events and any threat of Coronavirus spread in your community.  Base your decisions on science provided by advisors, not hysteria.  Race directors may want to encourage people with compromised immune systems, current illness, parents with infants/toddlers, and the very elderly with health issues to consider staying home if they registered for an event, as those are the populations that appear to be susceptible to the dangers of the virus.  If you are required to or are considering cancelling or rescheduling an event due to an overabundance of caution, making the call early can help you manage the situation and the fallout.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to get the information out to participants.

Johns Hopkins has developed a daily-updated website tracking cases around the World and more specifically in the U.S. 

The World Health Organization Offers the Following Advice (Download and review the WHO document in detail - PDF)

The decision to proceed with a mass gathering or to restrict, modify, postpone or cancel the event should be based on a thorough risk assessment. Event planners should undertake such an assessment in partnership with local and national public health authorities.

A comprehensive risk assessment should be undertaken at the beginning of the planning phase, reviewed regularly during planning and updated immediately prior to the handover to the operational phase.  The risk assessment should include input from the public health authority and should take into account the security assessment for the event.  In relation to COVID-19 disease, the risk assessment should include consulting WHO’s updated technical guidance and ensuring that there is an up-to-date evaluation of the epidemiological situation.  The risk assessment for the event must be coordinated and integrated with the host country's national risk assessment.

Action plans should be developed to mitigate all risks identified in the assessment. Some actions will be the responsibility of the public health authority to deliver, some will be the responsibility of the local health service provider, and the event organizer will be responsible for others; each action plan should specify who is responsible for delivering each action, the timescale for delivery, and how and by whom delivery will be ensured.

Risk communication is an integral part of mass gatherings. The following measures should be considered.  Key messages for the local population and event participants must be coordinated and consistent.  Consideration should be given to how messages about risk can be delivered to the population and to participants quickly if an unusual event occurs. Messaging should include:

  • an overall assessment of the local risk;

  • advice on preventive measures, especially respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene practices;

  • advice about how to access local health care if necessary, including how to do so without creating a risk to healthcare workers;

  • advice on self-isolation and not attending the event if symptoms develop;

  • information about disease signs and symptoms, including warning signs of severe disease that require immediate medical attention;

  • advice on self-monitoring for symptoms and signs for participants travelling from affected countries, including checking their temperature;

  • information that WHO does not currently recommend quarantine for healthy travelers or other travel restrictions; information that wearing a face mask is recommended for participants who have respiratory symptoms (for example, cough); it is not recommended for healthy participants.

After the event, if public health authorities suspect that transmission of the COVID-19 virus has occurred, organizers and participants should support the response of authorities. Event organizers must liaise with public health authorities and facilitate the sharing of information about all symptomatic participants. Organizers should pro-actively communicate with all participants if it is learned a participant gets diagnosed with COVID-19 following the event.

Understanding Cancellation Insurance Policies:  If your event has a formal cancellation policy, race directors should closely review the policy.  The event may not be covered if the policy does not include a communicable disease rider. If you are thinking about getting a cancellation policy for an upcoming event, it is critical to understand that insurers are most likely not covering the Coronavirus in new policies, as it is now a known pandemic and a likely trigger for a cancellation.

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