The Mount Sinai Health System helped the 2020 US Open Tennis Championship pull off a feat many had thought impossible: ensure a safe-and-healthy event for hundreds of elite athletes from around the world in the midst of a deadly pandemic. The Health System’s multidisciplinary team—which served as official medical services provider to the US Open for the eighth consecutive year—had a tournament unlike any in the past, where face coverings, social distancing, and empty spectator seats prevailed.
“I do not think we could have done a better job of caring for the health and safety of the athletes and everyone involved in the tournament,” says Alexis Chiang Colvin, MD, Professor in the Leni and Peter W. May Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Chief Medical Officer for the US Open. “It took months of planning and a well-executed collaborative effort to create a safe environment for the first major sporting event in New York since the pandemic began.”
Months prior to the start of the 2020 US Open, New York City was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and the site of the tournament—the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Grounds—served as a 350-bed field hospital for coronavirus patients. The gravity of this was not lost on Dr. Colvin, nor was the fact that many members of Mount Sinai’s US Open medical team had been on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle, including Dr. Colvin herself. “We had all put aside our practices and helped out on COVID-19 inpatient floors,” she recounts. “That experience gave us a huge level of comfort in dealing with the virus going into the tournament. Additionally, having the resources of Mount Sinai behind us, including the full breadth of medical specialties and access to accurate-and-efficient coronavirus testing, was essential.”
Extensive testing and temperature checks were ingrained parts of the comprehensive health and safety plan developed in advance of the tournament by Mount Sinai physicians—including Bernard Camins, MD, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System—in cooperation with the United States Tennis Association (USTA). The USTA is the governing body for tennis in the United States and the organization that runs the US Open tournament site.
This monitoring regime was critical given that requiring tennis players from 60 countries and a multitude of states to isolate for two weeks after arriving in New York would have been impractical. Instead, each athlete was tested twice for coronavirus symptoms within 48 hours of their arrival and every four days after that, amounting to more than 14,000 tests. Umpires, linespeople, and the player’s entourage—which was limited as part of the health and safety plan—were also subject to similar protocol. In addition, more than 49,000 temperature checks were conducted over the 30 days of the event, which included a warm-up tournament normally held in Cincinnati but relocated this year to New York in order to limit player travel and reduce the risk of infection, and symptom checks were administered before entering tournament grounds.
To the relief of US Open officials—and to the credit of on-site medical and health care personnel—this relentless, around-the-clock testing detected just one COVID-19 positive player in the tournament leading up to the US Open and one professional trainer prior to the start of the tournament. Otherwise, none of the 365 competitors tested positive once action on the courts began on Monday, August 31.
While the threat of COVID-19 persisted, Mount Sinai’s medical team—which included orthopedic surgeons, primary care and emergency medicine physicians, and musculoskeletal radiologists—continued to provide world-class care for players and their sports-related injuries. In addition, for the sixth consecutive year the Department of Radiology at Mount Sinai offered players diagnostic ultrasound examinations to evaluate musculoskeletal injuries.
Reflecting on Mount Sinai’s crucial supportive role at the 2020 US Open, Dr. Camins, an integral part of the on-site team, singled out “the herculean effort put on by so many people to create the controlled environment for all the athletes and their support teams. As an avid tennis fan, I could really appreciate the incredible feat accomplished by the USTA staff in just a few months.”
USTA heartily returned the compliment. On Sunday, September 13, at the tournament’s closing ceremony, USTA President Patrick Galbraith summoned Dr. Camins and Dr. Colvin to center court and, before a national television audience, thanked them for leading “a gifted medical team that kept us healthy and safe.”
Alexis Chiang Colvin, MD
Professor of Orthopedics