This year’s US Open tennis tournament in New York City has been plagued by what is being euphemistically referred to as a “mysterious” illness but has all the hallmarks of a COVID-19 superspreader event. A number of top players have had to pull out of the tournament or struggle to play with COVID-like symptoms, including respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments.

The spate of tennis players getting sick takes place as the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the US Open organizers have dismantled all anti-COVID safety measures in the midst of a new global surge of the pandemic. This is the first hidden surge of the pandemic since the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Biden administration ended their COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) declarations in early May, which cleared the path for the scrapping of all pandemic surveillance and public health measures globally.

Currently, there is a growing wave of COVID-19 infections in New York and across the US, according to wastewater data, now the only available means of tracking infections. The latest data indicate that at present roughly 620,000 Americans are being infected with COVID-19 each day, with the Northeast region experiencing the greatest level of viral transmission. In recent weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled in New York.

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Densely packed crowds are attending the US Open tournament in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing Meadows, with six days left of the tournament. In a twisted manner, tennis players are hailed for continuing to play while sick and praised as “warriors” if they somehow defeat their healthy opponents. The athletes are in close quarters with each other in locker rooms and interact with fans without any protection.

With no testing or masking requirements, the US Open tournament has effectively become a COVID-19 superspreader event, and the tournament organizers are covering it up by brushing aside the cases as “food poisoning” or a “flu.” In fact, the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that there is virtually no flu being transmitted in most of the US, but what is spreading widely is SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Epidemiologists have weighed in publicly about the US Open superspreader, including Michael Olesen, who bluntly stated on the spread of illness at the US Open: “I’m not sure why people are perplexed. It’s COVID. Hard stop.” David Staedson tweeted sarcastically, “As the latest variant of SARS-2 spreads around the world, a mysterious illness with the same symptoms as COVID-19 is spreading at the US Open.”

At the outset of the tournament, former tennis champion and ESPN sports commentator John McEnroe had to miss the US Open after testing positive for COVID-19. So far, this is the only official case of COVID-19 testing done on anyone at the tournament, with either a positive or negative result. USTA and event organizers have not even mentioned the word “COVID” or stated whether they have tested a single player for this or any other illness.

A week before the US Open began, McEnroe was part of a USTA exhibition event called “Stars of the Open” where he played with a number of current tennis players, including Carlos Alcaraz, the world’s number one in men’s singles, and Christopher Eubanks, an American player who later suffered a serious gastrointestinal complaint.

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