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Sponsorship Pulled from Portland Marathon, Raising Questions About Fall Racing

Oregon Health and Sciences University did not directly discourage runners from participating in the mass event, but stated it was "doing everything" to avoid burdening overloaded hospitals.

On September 1, Oregon Health and Science University announced that it would “postpone” sponsorship of the Portland Marathon scheduled for October 3. In a press release, OHSU cited concerns around the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our hospitals are at their fullest capacity, our members are exhausted, and we are doing everything we can to avoid adding to their burden,” the statement read. 

Cases have risen significantly in Oregon since the beginning and middle of summer, but have trended slightly downward in the last 14 days (a 9 percent decrease). Deaths and hospitalizations have risen by 25 and 21 percent respectively in the last two weeks. 

According to data from the New York Times, Portland in particular is a “very high” area of risk for unvaccinated people, based on recent cases. 

The Portland Marathon is one of several races returning in-person this fall, including the much larger World Marathon Majors: the Chicago Marathon on October 10, the Boston Marathon on October 11, and the New York City Marathon on November 7.

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However, other marathons have made the decision to cancel once again. Citing the unknown impact of the Delta variant of the coronavirus and local restrictions, the New Jersey Marathon, which was slated for October, was canceled.

The October 17 Tokyo Marathon will only go on for local runners, while overseas participants will have to run virtually or defer until 2023. 

The Portland Marathon intends to go on with their COVID-19 safety protocols in place. All runners, staff, and volunteers will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the race. Following local guidelines, participants will also be required to wear a mask at the expo, packet pick-up, on the start and finish lines; 4,000 runners are anticipated on race day. 

“Participation in the marathon, as a runner or volunteer, is, of course, a personal decision for our members and the general public, but as Oregon’s academic health center and a public leader in health and science, OHSU will not be sponsoring this year’s event,” says OHSU. 

The Portland Marathon released the following statement in response:

The Portland Marathon recognizes the incredible work being done by OHSU in the continued battle against COVID-19. We understand and appreciate their decision to postpone their sponsorship of the race so that they can focus on the monumental task at hand. The Portland Marathon will proceed as planned on October 3rd and will strictly adhere to all current health protocols enacted by local authorities. Additionally, all runners in this year’s race will be required to provide proof of vaccination or negative test results prior to being allowed to participate.”

In much of the rest of the country, community transmission of the virus is high, according to the CDC. COVID-19 deaths are projected to continue to rise into the middle of October. It remains to be seen how the changing nature of the virus will affect the 2021 fall racing season.

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