Skating in a Bubble

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By Troy Schwindt

Several major sports organizations returned to competition this year using a model that is predicated on everyone involved remaining in highly restrictive, campus-like environments to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

U.S. Figure Skating and the other ISU Grand Prix Series governing bodies followed suit, adopting similar protocols for their events this fall.

At 2020 Guaranteed Rate Skate America, U.S. Figure Skating has been working with the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas to make sure everyone involved is safe and healthy during competition week by having them isolated in a proverbial bubble.

The Orleans Arena, connected to The Orleans Hotel and Casino, hosted 2019 Skate America. No spectators are permitted at this year’s event.

Bob Dunlop, senior director of events at U.S. Figure Skating, along with the Orleans Arena management, submitted their plan to the Nevada Gaming Control Board a few months ago.

“We are under that jurisdiction so we had to submit that plan for review and approval,” Dunlop said. “And we are held to it.”

Here’s how the bubble will function for the athletes and everyone else associated with the event.            

Everyone will be met at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where they’ll be transported by car to the Orleans Arena. The arena will serve as the bubble’s entry point.

Upon arrival to the arena, they will take part in a final orientation that details the dos and don’ts of the bubble, including where they are restricted from going. They will receive a COVID test and be checked into their hotel rooms.

A designated bank of four elevators will be exclusively used for the event, and everyone will stay on three dedicated floors of the hotel. Everyone must remain in their hotel room for 12 to 14 hours until the COVID test results come back. During that time, Orleans Arena staff will knock on their doors and leave food at designated times. There’s no room service during the entire event.

“You cannot leave until you get that negative test result,” Dunlop said. “They will be notified by text or email of their test results. Once that happens, they will be active within the event bubble and can come down and get their credential for the event.

“It ensures the safety of everybody in the bubble that we are starting with everybody healthy. If someone was to test positive, we would test them again. If they tested positive again, then they are out of the event. No exceptions.”

Once in the bubble, everyone must adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s safety measures, which include wearing face coverings and social distancing. 

At the arena, there are two locker rooms for ladies, two for men and two for officials. There are also two dining rooms, which include tables for four people, with plexiglass three feet high separating each seat. Having extra locker rooms and dining areas allows arena staff to keep each of those areas clean and sanitized.

“We’ll always have that ability to have a fresh environment,” Dunlop said. “It’s almost like an ice resurfacing schedule. The dining rooms will be closed for 15 minutes every hour for a deep clean — new linens, wipe down the plexiglass. There is always going to be one open, sometimes two. 

“Having two locker rooms allows us to continue the flow of the event, while maintaining a clean and sterile environment.”

Having held the event at the Orleans Arena last year, Dunlop said, has been a huge advantage in planning this event during these unprecedented times. 

“The Arena is a good partner,” Dunlop said. “It’s been much easier to implement than if it would have been the first time around. This is only the second live event they’ve put on since the pandemic and they are eager to bring live sporting events back to Las Vegas.”