UPDATE: Order issued barring spectators from Arnold bodybuilding event in Columbus

The Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus this weekend will be closed to spectators and limited to athletes in an effort to prevent possible exposure to and spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced late Tuesday. Photo is from the event in 2010.

UPDATE @ 11:07 a.m.:

The state public health director issued an order Thursday prohibiting spectators from the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus to "avoid an imminent threat with a high probability of widespread exposure to COVID-19."

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said in the order "A large gathering of this type, which puts thousands of people shoulder to shoulder in a confined space, increases the risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19."

INITIAL REPORT:

The Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus this weekend will be closed to spectators and limited to athletes in an effort to prevent possible exposure to and spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced late Tuesday.

DeWine said to allow the festival to go on without changes presented an “unacceptable risk.”

Screening measures, including taking temperatures, will be done at area airports as 22,000 athletes arrive from 80 countries. Athletes from China, Iran, South Korea and Italy will be barred from the event, public health officials announced.

After getting pushback from organizers of the Arnold Sports & Fitness Expo, DeWine and Ginther fired off a joint statement, saying they stand by the original agreement to dramatically scale back the event to protect against the potential spread of Coronavirus.

“In the event that organizers fail to comply with our agreement, we stand ready to take appropriate action under Ohio law to protect the health and safety of the residents of the State of Ohio and our guests,” DeWine and Ginther said in a statement issued at 11 p.m. Wednesday.

The four-day event, which begins today in Columbus, usually draws 200,000 spectators and 25,000 athletes from 80 countries and other states, including those with Coronavirus outbreaks.

The original agreement reached earlier this week was to cancel the expo, bar athletes from China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, and prohibit spectators at all but limited ticketed competitions, such as bodybuilding finals.

Based on newly released CDC guidance on mass gatherings, DeWine and Ginther and their public health directors decided to scale back the Arnold. They argue that it’s unlike other gatherings such as basketball games.

“We are also concerned that almost all the other competitions at the festival are not single ticket events and are rather general admission, which allows for spectators to attend dozens of events and travel freely from facility to facility. These facts make this unique event significantly different than any other event we know of in this state,” the DeWine and Ginther statement said.

The festival, held mainly at the Columbus Convention Center, is typically packed with spectators, making it ideal for spreading viruses, DeWine said.

DeWine said the decision was made based on new guidance on mass gatherings issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday. The guidance included consideration of the local public health departments’ capacity to prevent the spread of disease.

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he supports the decision and noted the organization wouldn’t choose making money over risking people’s health. Schwarzenegger, who dialed into DeWine’s press conference, said he’ll attend the festival this weekend and then he signed off with “Hasta La Vista.”

RELATED: Schwarzenegger promises to keep his sports festival in Columbus

Since 1989 Columbus has hosted the annual Arnold Sports Festival, which now draws 22,000 athletes and 200,000 spectators for more than 50 events.

One person in Ohio is under observation for possible infection, seven people tested negative for the virus and there are no cases confirmed in Ohio.

Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton said “We will see cases in Ohio eventually.”

She urged Ohioans to wash their hands, cough or sneeze into their sleeves and stay home if they are sick. Dr. Acton also said Ohioans can get reliable, up-to-date information at CoronaVirus.Ohio.gov.

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