Looze not dwelling on Zika concerns ahead of Rio Olympics

Ray Looze isn’t letting a fear of Zika consume him.

In fact, he’s trying not to worry about it at all.

The Indiana swimming coach will serve as a women’s assistant for Team USA swimming during next month’s Rio Olympics, during which he’ll stick to a list of precautions to try and avoid contracting the virus.

“If you wear bug spray, which we’ve all been given a duffel bag worth of it, you should be just fine,” Looze said. “You cannot get stung if you plan a little bit ahead. It’s like wearing sun screen to prevent sun burn.”

The Zika epidemic has cast an ominous shadow over the Rio games, causing some athletes to pause and reconsider potential trips to Brazil. A mosquito-borne virus, Zika can cause symptoms including fever and joint pain in those infected. It also presents a significant danger to pregnant women and may cause birth defects.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many people infected with the virus will not show symptoms. It has also shown to be sexually transmitted and there is currently no vaccine or specific treatment available.

Earlier this month, it was was announced that SC Johnson reached a deal with Rio organizers to make OFF! bug spray the official insect repellent of the Olympics. Thousands of bottles of the spray will be made available to volunteers, athletes, coaches and Olympic staffers.

“I was just in Brazil two months ago with Vini Lanza, one of our male swimmers, and I felt perfectly safe,” Looze said. “I was there in their summer. There were no mosquitos during the day. It’s in the tropics, so the sun goes down in about 10 minutes, and when the sun goes down the mosquitos come out. But if you wore bug spray, you don’t get stung. I was on a bus with hundreds of mosquitos and I thought to myself, ‘If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen right now.’ I didn’t get stung.”

Looze and members of the United States swim team have already seen precautions put into place. The team, which is currently training in San Antonio, Texas, planned to hold a second camp in Puerto Rico days before departing for Rio, but moved that camp to Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta due to fears over Zika.

“I was just talking to a recruit that I’ve got in Puerto Rico and he said, ‘I know of no person in Puerto Rico that’s got Zika,'” Looze said. “So they were kind of disappointed that we cancelled that, but I think we’ve taken every precaution you could imagine, at least on the U.S. front.”

In May, 11 United States senators signed a letter asking the U.S. Olympic Committee how it planned to protect American athletes, coaches and staffers traveling to Brazil. In response, the USOC explained that members of the traveling party will have air conditioning units in their rooms and they’ll be given long-sleeved shirts and pants for their “casual wear uniforms.” Also, as recommended by the CDC, condoms will be distributed for up to six months following the trip.

In Rio, the swimming events will be held indoors, which should provide an additional layer of solace to those in attendance.

“I’m not as concerned,” Looze said, “because I think we have a good plan.”