With the Summer Olympics less than two months away, NBC said Tuesday that “a small handful” of staff members have opted not to travel to Brazil to cover the games. Pregnant anchor Savannah Guthrie’s announcement that she will stay in the U.S. is the latest indication that concerns over the Zika virus are mounting.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause severe birth defects in babies born to women bitten by the mosquitos. Brazil has struggled to handle the disease; authorities confirmed more than 1,400 cases of babies with microcephaly in the South American country, Reuters reported. Health officials have advised that pregnant women avoid travel to countries where Zika is prevalent.
Guthrie, who was slated to host NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremonies with fellow anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, announced she will not make the trip to Brazil Tuesday on the “Today” show. “I’m not going to be able to go to Rio, so you’ll have to go to beach volleyball without me," she said.
Guthrie is among other journalists, athletes, and visitors weighing the pros and cons of traveling to Brazil and potentially exposing themselves to the disease. On June 3, former gymnastics gold medalist Carly Patterson announced she would not attend the games to watch because she is “trying to start a family.”
Star gymnast Gabby Douglas, in contrast, said she doesn’t care about the “stupid bugs.” “It's the Olympics," Douglas said on June 3. "Mosquitoes? Like, whatever. I'm going.”
The rare nature of the Olympics makes many athletes unwilling to sit on the sidelines, even if they have concerns about Zika. Hope Solo said in February that she wouldn’t attend, but “begrudgingly” flipped positions in April.
“I strongly believe that no athlete should be put into this position — to decide between your Olympic dreams and your own health,” Solo said.
So many are echoing Solo’s sentiments that the World Health Organization announced Tuesday it will hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss new data on Zika and whether the Olympics should be canceled as a result of the crisis. Reuters reports,
“A letter signed by more than 200 bioethicists and health experts has called for the WHO to recommend postponing or moving the Olympics to prevent an acceleration of the epidemic's spread. WHO has rejected the call, saying the Games would not have a significant public health impact.”
A Sao Paolo-based research firm suggested that Zika will only infect about fifteen foreign visitors during the games, according to Reuters. Further, WHO experts charge that "canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus."
Still, as the disease spreads and increasing numbers of babies across the world are born with Zika-related illnesses, global health concerns are anything but allayed.