By Danielle Lincecum for The Sporting Nation
TEMPE. Ariz. -- Despite the Zika virus scare, Arizona State University journalism students are going to cover the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
Through a rigorous application process, faculty at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism selected 25 students to participate in covering the Rio Olympics, a study abroad program, which will send those selected students and three faculty members to Brazil for three weeks in August.
Brazil is the epicenter of the Zika virus outbreak. The latest numbers from the Brazilian Ministry of Health show the state of Rio de Janeiro as having the highest rate of suspected infections in the country.
"We anticipated to be contacted when Zika came out, surprisingly I have not been contacted by parents or students with concerns about Brazil or Zika,” said Kyle Rausch, ASU International Program Manager. “While we are staying on top of the Zika virus, we don’t feel currently that there is reason to raise red flags... we have given students and their parents resources about the … virus from the ASU Travel (Medical) Clinic and Center for Disease Control so they know the signs and symptoms and to dispel myths."
Currently the CDC advises pregnant women to consider not going to the gGames and places guidelines on conception for people who have been to a Zika-infected region, as the virus causes birth defects.
“(The Zika virus is) something that we have talked about and… the study aboard abroad office is letting us know about health concerns and those type of things, we are aware of it. Nobody that I know of has decided to not go on the trip as a result,” program director Brett Kurland said.
ASU is urging students to use insect repellent and may provide students with a mosquito net for sleeping if they would like one. Rausch says the school’s partners in Rio have told them that mosquito nets are not necessary.
The CDC recommends using insect repellent and covering exposed skin to avoid mosquito bites, which are the main source of contracting the virus.
“I’m not too worried about the Zika (virus). I know it will be winter time in Rio and the mosquitoes won’t be as bad,” participating ASU student Ryan Curry said.
The lack of student worry is due to the scale of the event, the competitive nature of the program and hopefully in part to the resources ASU has provided students with regard to the virus, according to Rausch.
The application process was competitive with more than 70 students applying for the 25 available slots.
“We had a very impressive pool of people to pick from, it wasn’t a rule-out process by any stretch. We wish we could have taken more, it was a really good group of applicants. It’s an overused line probably, but it’s a once in a lifetime experience to get to go cover the Olympics. This huge global event will be beneficial to them,” Kurland said.
The students will have non-accredited media credentials for the games. That means they will not be in the Olympic venues covering events. Faculty will be working with the United States Olympic Committee to get day passes for students to attend practices.
With hundreds of journalists covering the competitions themselves, Cronkite News students will be uncovering the behind-the-scenes moments and stories surrounding the games. Students will focus on cultural and human interest stories and are expected to produce written, video, photo and 360-degree video content for Cronkite News and other news clients.
This is not the first time the Cronkite School has had a study abroad program go to the Olympics. In 2012, 19 students and two faculty members went to London.
The unique challenges to these Olympic Games held in Brazil are logistics and the language barrier, which was not a problem in London.
Kurland said that while the official Olympic events will not be a problem, navigating the city with a group where no one speaks Portuguese will be challenging. However, the school is working with Campus Brasil who will provide two travel coordinators to help the group.
ASU and the study abroad office takes the safety, health and security of students very seriously. It is a top priority. They provide comprehensive medical insurance, a private security firm and monitor the Department of State website for travel warning and advisories. “We don’t send students places where there is a travel warning,” Rausch said.
Students will report from the Olympics Aug. 1-22, with content appearing on the Cronkite News website.