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Arnold Sports Festival Limits Spectators, Cancels Expo Over Coronavirus Fears

Mayor Andrew Ginther and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine at a press conference March 3, 2020.
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Mayor Andrew Ginther and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine at a press conference March 3, 2020.

The Arnold Sports Festival will be a lot smaller than usual this year due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

In a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that while the competition will move forward, the trade show will be canceled and spectators will not be allowed any day other than the finals.

More than 20,000 competitors from 80 nations were expected to arrive this week for the annual festival, which takes place in Columbus from March 5-8. The festival also expected 200,000 spectators at some 80 events across the city, centered around the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

"The circumstances at the Arnold are ideal for the spread of disease," DeWine said. "The fact that the Arnold mainly takes place in a confined, indoor space creates an environment that is much more conducive for the spread of the virus."

Some 20 athletes from China, South Korea, Italy, Japan and Iran will not be allowed to compete this year. All those countries are on the CDC's travel notification list.

All athletes from outside the United States will be screened for coronavirus at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport, says Columbus Public Health Commissioner Mysheika Roberts.

"And asking them certain questions about exposure to COVID-19, whether they have a fever in the last 24 hours and if they've come from one of the affected countries," Roberts says.

Speaking over the phone, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said organizers don't want to put people at risk of getting sick.

The CDC recently released guidelines for large events to prepare against the spread of coronavirus.

Media representatives for the Arnold Sports Festival did not return a request for comment.

According to Mayor Andrew Ginther, the Arnold has an annual economic impact of $53 million. Brian Ross, Experience Columbus president and CEO, says it's too early to tell how canceling the expo might impact economic turnout.

However, Ross says they're reaching out to other attractions like the Columbus Zoo, COSI and the National Veterans Memorial and Museum to see if they can offer discounts for people who were planning on going to the expo.

"We can get out into the community now so they can have a different experience while they're here," Ross says.

With Ginther beside him, DeWine said he recognized the weight of this decision. The governor said that addressing coronavirus concerns means constantly staying on top of the facts and making the best call that they can.

"The two of us took an oath to protect the people that we represent and that's why we're here today with this decision," DeWine said.

People in the Columbus fitness world had been anxiously waiting to find out if the growing concerns over the coronavirus would impact this year's festival.

Pam Waugh, owner of Body Fit Training Facility in Grove City, has spent months training Masie Swackhammer for this year's bikini and modeling competitions. She was excited to learn Tuesday evening that the Arnolds Sports Festival will still allow coaches and family members of athletes to watch the competitions.

No cases of coronavirus have been confirmed yet in Ohio. So far seven patients have tested negative, with another Ohioan currently under investigation. More than 200 people are in self-quarantine after returning from trips to China.

Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton cautioned Tuesday that the disease will likely spread to Ohio eventually.

Nine deaths from COVID-19 have been reported so far, all of which came from Washington state.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.
Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.