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Frequently Asked Questions: Special Olympics Return to Activities—COVID-19

As of December 19th 2022

Points of Contact | Background | Risk Levels and Timeline | Responsibility, Liability, and Third Party Events | COVID-19 Participant Code of Conduct and Risk Assessment Form | COVID-19 Screening | Sport Specific Guidance | Individuals at High Risk | Venue Set-up | Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) | Fundraising | Medical Operations and First Aid | * School-based Programming | Travel Consideration | Medical Forms | Communicable Disease Waiver: U.S. Programs Only | Vaccines | Return to Activities (R2A) Web Application

Points of Contact

1. Who do I contact with questions?
For local volunteers and participants, please contact your Accredited Program office. For Accredited

Program staff, please contact your Regional Office or contact Special Olympics, Inc. with general questions by emailing

For liability or legal questions, Programs should contact their legal counsel at the initial step for requirements and recommendations for their jurisdiction. Additional support is available from the SOI Legal Department and American Specialty Insurance.(6/17/2020; Updated 6/28/2021)


1. How was this protocol developed and who was consulted?
In order to address the complexity of this issue and our global movement, we set up a process that allowed for, and will continue to allow for, subject matter expert and stakeholder input, with the expectation that multiple iterations of this guidance may be required.

First, we gathered guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), US Center for Disease Control (CDC), multiple governments, sports governing bodies, and other organizations. We developed stakeholder input panels. Specifically, a COVID medical advisory working group was convened. Input was sought from Program CEOs, staff and athletes, legal, and risk management, human resources, programmatic leads (sport, health, youth/schools, leadership), Global Medical Advisory Committee, and Regional Presidents. In addition, we had review by World Athletics/IPC (International Paralympic Committee), CDC, USOPC (US Olympics and Paralympic Committee) and others. (6/17/2020)

The above process was reiterated during the revision of the Protocol in 2021, with input from a variety of medical experts as well as programmatic stakeholders (6/28/2021)

2. What will be the process and timeline for revisions to the protocol?
The Protocol was updated in June 2021 (from the original July 2020 version).

Currently there is no set timeline for a third revision. Special Olympics will continue to monitor the situation and revise as needed, based on new data, demonstrated prevalent needs, or other factors that would compel SOI to make revisions to the global protocol in the best interests of all Programs. As this pandemic is fluid and constantly changing, guidance will continue to evolve. (6/28/2021)

Risk Levels and Timeline

1. What is the timeline for roll-out?
Starting from the date of release (29 June 2021), Programs may begin to follow the updated protocol guidance. As the levels of prevention are based on community transmission, there is no specific timeline for moving from one level to another. As a reminder, the Special Olympics guidance is intended as a minimum standard and not to replace any local regulations. If your locale has more stringent restrictions in place, Programs must follow those. (6/28/2021)

Programs should also refer to governmental guidance and revert to earlier levels if COVID-19 transmission increases. For example, if the Program were currently in the Orange risk level, but the local authorities determine that the community must resume “Stay at Home” orders, you must revert to a stay at home order. (6/17/2020; Remains in effect 6/28/2021)

Responsibility, Liability, and Third Party Events

1. What responsibility and liability does the Program have for implementing this protocol?
As insurance coverage will be dependent on a number of factors, it is recommended that Programs contact their insurance providers. Programs are also encouraged to contact their legal counsel regarding issues of liability. If a US Program, you may contact American Specialty. (6/18/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

2. Does this protocol apply to events hosted by a third party but at which Special Olympics participants are invited to attend?
If the event is hosted by a third party and Special Olympics athletes or participants are being invited to attend, the third-party host organization should assume all responsibility. While a Program would defer to the rules and regulations of the third-party host, it is recommended Programs understand the safety and health measures the host will be implementing in order to help participants determine if they would feel safe attending. If Special Olympics is responsible for organizing aspects of participation (e.g., travel, accommodation, etc.), it is recommended that you follow the Special Olympics protocols for those aspects at a minimum. (6/17/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

The possibility of high-risk conditions in populations (particularly those who remain unvaccinated) within the Special Olympics movement should be conveyed to leaders/authorities. (6/17/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

Participants, parents, guardians and caregivers should be provided with education on Special Olympics guidelines and relevant acknowledgements or expectations (conduct expectations, waivers, etc.) of participants by the hosting party. (6/17/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

3. Does a Program have any responsibility to provide access to testing for other members of a team if an athlete or coach tests positive? Or, are they on their own to deal with their own medical providers?
The Program does not have a responsibility to provide testing to other members of a team if an athlete or coach test positive, but the Program should encourage the individuals to speak with a healthcare provider about receiving testing on their own. Additionally, the Program should suspend programming and have the individual self-quarantine, per local regulations if an individual who had been in attendance tests positive and individuals should self-quarantine. (8/11/2020; updated 6/28/2021)

4. Do we have an obligation to report and how do we find out how to do that while respecting privacy laws within our state/country/area/territory? Should we advise our local Programs to report directly to the health department, or notify participants within a training group immediately, or defer to the Accredited Program to notify if someone in the group is diagnosed with COVID-19?
Per the Protocol, the Program has an obligation to know the reporting process for their state/country/area/territory to ensure they are following the preferred process by local authorities for reporting as well for contract tracing. Programs may be responsible for providing a list of participants who were in attendance, if the local authorities request to help with contract tracing. This is why the protocol requires keeping track of participants, in addition to internal purposes.

In terms of notification of other participants if there is a Special Olympics participant who is found to have COVID-19, Special Olympics Programs should notify participants that were at the event that an individual in attendance tested positive (without disclosing identifying information) as soon as possible and instruct individuals to contact their healthcare provider for further guidance and follow local regulations with regards to requirements for self-quarantine of individuals exposed. Individuals who have tested positive and/or have symptoms of COVID-19 should be instructed to seek medical attention and must receive clearance from a medical professional prior to returning to sports/fitness activities. (Updated 6/29/2021 to defer to local regulations for self-quarantine)

5. For Yellow (moderate risk) and Green (low risk) criteria, does the vaccination and/or testing requirements include any non-Special Olympics staff who may be employees of the venue/facility, or other members of the public at the same venue who are not part of our Special Olympics group, or just the Special Olympics participants?
If venue staff will not be interacting with the athletes and are not consistently within 6 feet/2 meters of the Special Olympics group, these facility staff would not count against your 80% vaccination threshold. If the facility staff are mixing with the group and within 6 feet/2 meters during the activity and/or will be leading activities, then it is recommended that, where possible, you have an understanding of their vaccination status and/or the venue’s testing protocol for staff. In the event that they do not disclose, we recommend Programs request venue staff wear masks and distance when interacting with Special Olympics participants.

In addition to Special Olympics guidance, of course, Programs will need to follow the guidance of the venue/facility (as well as the local authorities) if more stringent in size limits and/or other prevention protocols. If there are other groups in the space, it is the responsibility of the venue to follow local guidance to control and applicable venue capacity limits and/or physical distancing requirements amongst groups in the venue. However, if the venue is not operating in a safe manner, or in conjunction with the general infection control precautions, the Program should consider switching venue or ceasing activities, until they can be done safely. (7/1/2020; updated 6/28/2021)

COVID-19 Participant Code of Conduct and Risk Assessment Form

1. How should Programs keep track of the COVID-19 Participant Code of Conduct and Risk Assessment form?
The form may be collected via paper or electronically, whichever process(es) works best for a Program’s unique situation, capacity and resources. It should be noted that GMS has a COVID Code of Conduct Certification that may be used to assist in tracking forms. Programs may have participants and/or caregivers complete the form online with an electronic signature. Note: the COVID-19 Code of Conduct form is not considered a legal document. We recommend Programs check with their legal counsel to determine if they should/must, per local applicable law, incorporate language regarding any legalities and/or agreements (by the signer) addressing the validity and enforceability of electronic signatures—either via typing in one’s name (or that of their guard/child) or checking a box that serves as signature. (8/11/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

2. How long does a Program need to keep the screening and participation reports and the Participant Risk and Code of Conduct Form?
Programs should follow their respective Record Retention Policies and Protocols regarding the retention and destruction of records related to health and other documents. (6/17/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

3. What happens if someone refuses to sign the COVID-19 Participant Code of Conduct and Risk Assessment form?
The main focus should be on the education and emphasizing that we are keeping everyone safe and strongly encouraging signing of the document. The Code of Conduct is not a legally binding document. Ultimately, it is at the discretion of the Programs as to how to handle a participant who refuses to sign. (6/17/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

4. May a Program modify and/or add an indemnification clause the COVID-19 Code of Conduct and Risk Assessment Form?
Programs may add to the COVID-19 Code of Conduct and Risk Form, but we request that information not be deleted.

Non-U.S. Programs are not permitted to require athletes (or their legal guardians if signing on their behalf) to sign indemnification clauses or “general releases or waivers of liability” as a part of the COVID-19 Code of Conduct and Risk Form (or any other form). However, additional language may be added for participants other than athletes (e.g., coaches, volunteers, Unified partners, etc.) at the Program’s discretion, but are not mandated by SOI at this time.

U.S. Programs only: The Communicable Disease Waiver for Participants (applicable only to athletes, Unified partners, volunteers and coaches) already includes indemnification language related to COVID. Therefore, additional indemnification language may only be added on the Code of Conduct and Risk Form, at the Program’s discretion, for participants not covered under the Communicable Disease Waiver for Participants. This Code of Conduct and Risk form may be combined with the Communicable Disease Waiver for Participants (see section on Communicable Disease Waiver below for additional memo and guidance). Review by local legal counsel to ensure the validity of the combined Communicable Disease Participant Waiver and Code of Conduct in your jurisdiction is required. (04/15/2021; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

5. Who must complete the COVID-19 Code of Conduct and Risk Assessment Form?
All Special Olympics participants (Athletes, Unified partners, Coaches, Volunteers, families/caregivers who will be in attendance, and SO Staff) should complete the form. It is at a Program’s discretion as to whether or not to request venue staff (e.g., bowling alley or recreational center staff) complete the form. The Program may want to give consideration to what precautions the venue is already taking, as well as the proximity and duration of the venue staff to the Special Olympics participants both in terms of having the form completed and in determining if the venue should be used. (7/1/20; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

6. How can we track this form in GMS?
Please review the GMS Import Instructions - Communicable Disease Waiver and COVID Code of Conduct and Risk Form for a step-by-step process to import the GMS certification for these forms. (04/15/2021)

COVID-19 Screening

1. For the screening form, when asking if you have had any exposure to COVID-19, how immediate should the contact / exposure be/have been?
Only report if the participant has had direct contact with someone who has had COVID-19, not that someone has been in contact with a friend who had another friend that had COVID-19. (6/17/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

2. What if our Program doesn’t have the capacity to do thermometer screenings onsite?
Standard of care and medical authorities recommend that in the moderate (yellow) and significant (orange) risk levels, temperature checks should be done onsite for any in-person activities to supplement the questionnaire portion of the screening. However, we understand this is a challenge for many Programs. We strongly encourage that you follow this best practice when feasible (and that you must do so when required by local authorities). If unable to conduct onsite temperature checks, you must still ask the screening questions (including the self-report question on whether the participants has a fever). Additionally, be sure you have provided proper education and instruction to participants in regards to staying home if they show any signs and symptoms of illness, including fever (100.4°F/37.8°C or higher). (6/18/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

3. Does the COVID screening or collection of vaccine status violate HIPAA (applicable in the US only)?
At this time, Special Olympics is exempt from HIPAA as HIPAA only applies if organizations/providers transmit personal health information (PHI) electronically for transactions that HHS has adopted standards including submitting for financial claims, or is considered a clearinghouse or a health plan. However, the Program and coaches should still put in place a process to protect health information as best as possible in terms of storing and sharing medical information. (7/1/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

4. If a Special Olympics participant was potentially exposed to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 at a different location (e.g., their school or home or work) and not the Special Olympics event, do we need to shut down practice and have all participants quarantine?

  1. If an individual was exposed they should self-quarantine based on local regulations. They should be reminded to monitor their symptoms and consult with a doctor to discuss the need for testing and/or treatment.
  2. If the exposure is known to have taken place before the last time this individual was at an SO event (e.g., they attended practice on Wednesday and the potential exposure took place the previous Monday), the Program should follow local regulations with regards to holding practice, but may want to consider having virtual practices for two weeks, to ensure there wasn’t spread, if the majority of participants are unvaccinated and/or vaccination status of the participants is unknown.
  3. If the SO individual ultimately develops symptoms and tests positive, follow local regulations with regards to continuing events and self-quarantine requirements for individuals exposed.  All other participants from the event should be notified, while maintaining privacy, that an individual at a Special Olympics event they attended, has tested positive for COVID-19. As with all recommendations, consult with your local guidance to ensure you are in compliance with local rules and regulation. (7/27/2020; updated 6/28/2021)

5. Regarding return to activities of those who have tested positive, is there a time limit as to when the positive test occurred? For example: someone tested positive 6 months ago and now wants to return to activities, do they still need to supply proof of medical clearance? Or is this only for recent positive diagnoses?
It does not matter when the positive test occurred, with respect to clearance to return to activities. They are obligated, per the SOI protocol, to provide proof of medical clearance prior to return to play for the immediate purpose of ensuring no further transmission and because of the potential long-term (especially cardiac-related) health impacts that could make participation more dangerous. (1/26/2021; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

Sport Specific Guidance

1. Are there specific sports that are not allowed to return or be conducted in certain protocol risk categories?
Sporting activities should focus on individual skill development and conditioning and/or indirect contact sports if in the orange (significant risk) categories. Sporting activities in the green (low) and yellow (moderate) categories should be conducted in accordance with applicable local regulations.

A Program may choose how and when they return to each sport, provided they follow the precautions and infection control outlined in the Protocol for each risk level. (6/17/2020; updated 6/28/2021)

2. Could you clarify “indirect contact” and “direct contact”? Is passing a soccer ball considered “indirect contact”?
In this context, “indirect contact” is considered an activity where a ball or equipment is touched or in contact with an individual’s hands/skin and then directly touching another individual’s hands/skin without disinfection. An example of indirect contact would be a basketball or football or softball being passed around between participants. Individual drills for those sports with disinfection of equipment/ball in between uses is encouraged. Soccer drills that involve passing the ball by kicking and staying 6 feet/2 meters apart is neither indirect nor direct contact as the contact is via the covered foot, not skin.

Note: scrimmage or full play of any sports such as basketball, football, volleyball, floor hockey, or soccer, etc. however, would be considered direct contact as bodies are regularly in contact with one another. (7/1/2020; updated 6/28/2021)

3. (For North America Programs only) Does the SONA sports risk assessment align with the Protocol risk levels?
Sporting activities should focus on individual skill development and conditioning to avoid direct contact while in Orange level (significant risk). A Program may choose how and when they return to each sport, provided they follow the precautions and infection controls outlined in the Protocol for each phase. The SONA sport-specific document provides an outline of some basic risk categories. It also provides links to how specific sport federations and associations recommend modifications to programming and training. (9/23/2020)

4. What are recommended approaches for the removal of masks when athletes are training or competing (engaged in actual activity) while also maintaining the required safety protocols?
We recommend consulting the guidance provided by the applicable sport’s national or international governing body website, as well as consulting with the venue on their recommendations and policies. It is recommended that athletes and Unified partners not remove their masks until immediately entering the field of play and put on their masks again upon exiting the field of play. Programs/event organizers/coaches need to think through the overall venue and flow and may wish to establish a protocol for exiting the field of play in a manner that provides for physical and time spacing between athletes (and Unified partners if applicable) to allow athletes to warm up and/or cool down in marked / separated areas that maintain the physical distancing minimum of 6 feet / 1.8 meters. For SONA Programs - please also reference the sport-specific guidance document. Additional low literacy resources are available to help provide instructions to athletes and others on how to wear a mask properly and additional guidance and information on safely wearing and removing a mask available from CDC. (9/23/2020)

Individuals at High Risk

1. Why are participants living in long-term care facilities considered high risk?
The list of individuals at high-risk is based on guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). Research has shown that individuals with disabilities living in long-term care facilities are at increased risks of transmission as well as complications from COVID-19. The intention behind this is in regards to individuals living in licensed long-term care facilities.

If an individual is vaccinated, then they are no longer considered high risk because of their underlying conditions and/or because they reside in a long-term care facility and may participate as any other individual, if they choose to do so. (6/28/2021)

2. Are we restricting participation, preventing athletes and volunteers from participating if they identify as “high risk”? Are we treating athletes and volunteers exactly the same? i.e., do we restrict athletes and allow volunteers?
At this time, the recommendation from SOI is that all individuals who identify as high risk, who are not vaccinated, should be strongly encouraged to stay home, but the guidance does not mandate that a Program must restrict participation on this basis. This guidance applies to all participants (athletes, coaches, volunteers, etc.). However, it is the responsibility of the Program to ensure that participants are provided education and information about hygiene and prevention measures, as well as who is considered at high risk, per CDC and WHO guidelines so they can make an informed decision regarding their participation. Additionally, the Program is responsible for implementing safety control measures to mitigate risk of all participants in attendance. The Program should also have alternative ways for engagement via virtual or at home activities, as feasible.

If an individual is vaccinated, then they are no longer considered high risk because of their underlying conditions and/or because they reside in a long-term care facility and may participate as any other individual, if they choose to do so. (6/28/2021)

Venue Set-up

1. How should food and beverages at events be handled?
Refer to the protocol (revised, June 2021) for guidance, based on applicable risk category. It is a good practice in general for participants to bring their own food and water/beverage if needed or preferred, when possible. In Orange (significant risk) and Yellow (moderate risk) levels, there should be no shared food nor shared water jugs/beverage dispensers—individual bottles and packages only. No self-service buffets, salad bars or beverage stations in Orange (significant) or Yellow (moderate) levels. Under these two levels, participants should be served or prepackaged “grab and go” meals in a bag with disposable utensils, napkin, hand wipe included. Condiments should be in individual packages—not large bottles for group use.

Volunteers distributing should be wearing gloves and masks (as vaccination status of volunteers and/or athletes may be unknown).

Have handwashing or hand sanitizer stations close to meal area.

Recommend having marked spaces where the individuals will eat showing 2m/6ft separation if in orange risk category. Spacing between each person may need supervision. (6/17/2020; updated 6/28/2021)

2. What is meant by handwashing facility or station? What type of hand sanitizer should be used?
For a handwashing facility or portable station, there should be access to clean water, soap and paper towels to dry hands. Ideally should be more than one facility as the events get larger. (6/17/2020; updated 6/28/2021)

Have signage posted reminding participants about hand hygiene and proper techniques for washing hands and using hand sanitizer. (6/17/2020)

Hand sanitizer should be with at least 60% alcohol. (6/17/2020)

3. How do we know if third party operated facilities are disinfecting the venue and any related equipment properly or meeting local health and safety guidelines?
Prior to allowing Special Olympics activities to be held at a third party operated venue, we recommend the Program discuss all concerns, ask questions, so as to ensure the venue’s COVID-19 operating procedures satisfy the requirements of the Return to Activity protocol and are in accordance with applicable jurisdictional COVID-19 guidance and requirements, and that any agreements or contracts clearly articulate who is responsible for health and safety measures (venue or SO Program). (9/23/2020)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

1. May I use my Healthy Athletes grant to cover the costs of PPE for events other than Healthy Athletes? Are there any other resources to help Programs obtain PPE?
The Healthy Athletes Capacity grant funds may be used to cover the costs of PPE for Healthy Athlete Events and some supplies purchased for use at Healthy Athletes events (e.g., temporal thermometers) may be re-used for other events. (updated 6/28/2021)

The U.S., Department of Education grant funds may be used to assist with PPE for Unified Champion Schools activities. Please contact the UCS grant management team with questions. (6/18/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

For other sources, we recommend having discussions with Ministries of Health, Sport and Education. Additionally, Programs may wish to join with other non-profits in community to consider efforts of purchasing supplies at discounted rates. Lastly, there is guidance on low-cost ways of making masks and hand sanitizer available. (6/17/2020)

2. May a participant use a face shield instead of a mask?
At this time, clinical guidance suggests that a face shield should be used in addition to a facemask in certain clinical settings, not as a replacement for a mask. A face shield alone does not provide proper protection from the spread of COVID-19 via droplets in the air. At this time, it is not recommended that a face shield be used instead of a facemask at Special Olympics activities. (7/1/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

Here is a resource from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Boggs Center to help explain the need for and the usage of masks for individuals with ID.

3. If someone says they have a medical reason for not being able to wear a facemask, how should a Program handle this?
Mask requirements depend on the risk level you are in. Individuals unable or unwilling to wear a mask in the required times during an event should be individually evaluated to determine if there are alternative accommodations that can be made for their participation and/or find ways to help the individual comfortably wear the mask. If safe in-person accommodations are not feasible, they should be invited to participate in virtual or at-home activities. The use of the mask is not only to protect the individual, but to protect others in attendance and reduce possible transmission. (7/1/2020; updated 6/28/2021)


1. Does the Return to Activity protocol apply to fundraising events?
Fundraising events are considered separate from the protocol and Programs should follow regulations and COVID protocols from their local authorities, respectively for such events.

However, for the health and well-being of fundraising participants and staff members, we would expect Programs to assess and understand the Program’s risk and liability exposures in all instances, consult with their legal counsel and/or insurer, and demonstrate an abundance of caution in conducting any fundraising event. Most fundraising event participants are not Special Olympics athletes / people with IDD, which may confer a different COVID-19 risk profile than a Special Olympics programming. We expect that Programs, at a minimum, will follow local guidance with respect to allowable participant numbers at fundraising events. Moreover, we strongly encourage Programs still follow the procedures outlined in the SOI Return to Activities Protocol with regards to risk mitigation for fundraising events and ask Programs to adhere to the specific guidance provided the other FAQs in this section with respect to athlete participation in fundraising events. (10/19/2020; updated 6/28/2021)

2. Can Athlete Leaders participate in fundraising events, in a specific role/leadership role related to the event?
In the spirit of equity and respect, Athlete Leaders may participate if they are playing a specific leadership role in the event. However, we highly recommend:

  1. the number of Athlete Leaders be kept to essential participants only AKA those with specific roles (e.g., Global Messenger);
  2. that each athlete (or their legal guardian) sign the Special Olympics COVID-19 Participant Code of Conduct and Risk Assessment form and the Communicable Disease Waiver for Participants;
  3. that each Athlete Leader be screened on site upon arrival for symptoms and exposure;
  4. that the Athlete Leader receive education about the expected health and safety behaviors to be demonstrated by them at the event (and that they will be held accountable for adhering to them)
  5. and that they not be pressured or made to feel they have to participate on behalf of the Program. (7/10/2020)

3. May athletes participate in in-person fundraising events?
If an athlete wishes to participate in a fundraising event as a paying entrant/registrant, like any other supporter, they are welcome to but would need to assume all liability for their own health and safety, as would all other event participants/members of the general public. As mentioned, above, the fundraising event must follow all local regulations in regards to hosting gatherings. (7/10/2020)

4. Is there guidance regarding Polar Plunge events?
For U.S. Programs, per the Risk Services department at American Specialty: According to the CDC, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through water which includes natural bodies of water as well as pools, water playgrounds, and hot tubs. However, person to person spread through droplets is still a risk. The following should be considered:

  1. Follow the SOI Return to Activity Protocol, applicable to all SO event/activity participants.
  2. Ensure participants, volunteers, and spectators are informed to stay home if they are ill, have COVID symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID.
  3. Ensure participants are reminded of standard hygiene protocols (i.e., proper hand washing procedures, covering sneezes/coughs etc.).
  4. Encourage non-vaccinated participants and spectators to maintain 6 feet physical distancing in and out of the water at all times.
  5. Encourage non-vaccinated individuals to wear face coverings when not in the water.

Programs outside the U.S. should consult their respective insurers and health agencies for guidance. (9/14/2020)

5. What forms does a general fundraising participant need to sign?
For in-person fundraising activities, we recommend Programs continue using the general release of liability waiver for all paying/registered event participants which includes a release for claims arising from a communicable disease.

We recommend reviewing any waiver used with your local legal counsel to confirm compliance with any existing waiver requirements for your jurisdiction.

For U.S. Programs only: All registered athletes, Unified Partners, coaches, and volunteers when participating in sanctioned Special Olympics activities; including fundraising events, but only when the participant has a specific role and is acting at the direction of the Program (e.g., event volunteer, Global Messenger giving a speech, etc.), must also complete the Communicable Disease Waiver. (03/11/2021; updated 6/28/2021)

Medical Operations and First Aid

1. How do you handle a situation where first aid must be administered during an activity?
First aid should absolutely be provided by coaches, volunteers, or staff if required during an activity, even if physical distancing is not feasible during the aid. If it is a medical emergency, call the local emergency medical services (E.g., (9-1-1 in the US). If it is a non-medical emergency, but basic first aid is needed, individuals providing care should follow proper hand hygiene and wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer and put on a surgical facemask and disposable gloves prior to administering first aid. If the athlete is breathing and conscious, they should also be wearing a face covering, per protocol, especially if exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Administer the first aid and then properly dispose of all supplies and gloves. After care is provided, ensure individuals follow proper hand hygiene and wash their hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer. All activities should have a basic first aid kit on site which should also include a surgical facemask, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer/disinfectant. A face shield or protective eye wear may also be useful under yellow and orange levels. (7/27/2020; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

School-based Programming

*This section of the FAQ was created with U.S. audiences in mind, but also may be useful for non-U.S. locales. Please adhere to local health guidelines as the first step.

1. Are schools required to follow the Special Olympics Return to Activity Protocol?
No, if it is considered a “school-based activity”. School-based activities led by schools are considered separate from our protocol and should comply with guidance from schools/districts.

If the activity is considered to be “Special Olympics-operated” or a “co-operated” event and/or when school activities transition into Special Olympics community activities (e.g., the final competition/tournament is hosted by Special Olympics), then Special Olympics’ return to play protocols and necessary precautions must be followed.” (updated 6/28/2021)

2. How do we determine if a school event is a school-led, Special Olympics led or co-operated event?
Please refer to the Special Olympics “Decision Tree” document to determine if the school’s activities would be considered “school-operated”, “Special Olympics-operated", or “co-operated”. (6/17/2020)

3. What if schools are looking to Special Olympics for “approval” to do a sport/activity, even if it’s considered a school-operated activity?
As the school has liability for their events, Special Olympics Programs should be cautious with respect to officially granting or implying “approval” or endorsement of any activity that Special Olympics is not operating, as this could present liability issues for the Program. However, the Special Olympics Program may wish to consider sharing its return to activity protocol with the school to share the minimum standards and protocols the Program is implementing if the school wishes to see if it is meeting or exceeding what Special Olympics is doing or to possibly adopt any of Special Olympics’ practices that lean toward supporting the unique needs of people with ID. (6/17/2020)

5. How can we as Special Olympics best support schools who are in different phases/at different risk levels?
Provide activity options that are adaptable and can be implemented similarly across various risk levels.

Programs should have a plan for virtual activities to continue throughout the school year, regardless of what in-person activities may be offered. This will provide several benefits such as:

  1. Continued opportunities for vulnerable individuals.
  2. Seamless transition if in-person activities need to be stopped.
  3. Relieve pressure on students/parents to always have an option to opt-out of in-person activities if they are not fully comfortable.

6. What if a school is not following CDC and/or Special Olympics guidance and potentially putting participants at greater risk than needed?
That is the parent/legal guardian and participants’ decision as to whether or not to participate. However, if the school is not following CDC or local guidelines then it would be prudent for the Special Olympics Program to assess whether or not it wishes to allow individual athletes or teams from that school to participate in Special Olympics-operated activities during that time. For school-operated activities, it is the school that is responsible for the safety of its students and guests on its premises and under its auspices. (6/17/2020)

7. Who is responsible/accountable for implementing onsite screening protocols and documentation of them at each local activity?
For school activities, it would be whomever the school’s policy has designated as responsible. For Special Olympics activities, then it is who the Special Olympics Program has designated (See protocol and tracking sheet resources on main Return to Activities page). These specific designations should ideally be outlined in each organization’s return to activities policy. (6/17/2020)

8. What steps or considerations need to be made for community-based Special Olympics athletes who participate in 3rd party leagues and tournaments (I.e.; college intramurals/clubs and NIRSA tournaments)
See “Responsibility, Liability, and Third Party Events” section of the General FAQ. (6/17/2020)

9. Is there a recommendation on locker room access?
As one example of how to approach this this could be to have teammates arrive to their venues already dressed for competition/practice so as to reduce or eliminate locker room need/use.

Recommend following the protocol guidance regarding physical distancing and ensuring the venue is meeting COVID-19 era sanitization expectations. (6/17/2020)

10. Can Unified Sports teams still train/practice in higher risk sports as long as they are following the guidelines for their current phase?
From a Special Olympics standpoint, “yes”, however, school systems may have a different approach or philosophy than the Special Olympics Program as to what constitutes a “high risk” sport during any phase and so if it’s a school activity, they should be determining if the sport would be offered in their school at any given time. Also see “Sport-specific guidance” section in the General FAQ. (6/17/2020)

11. Who makes the determination on someone being categorized as high risk?
See above, the responsibility to make that determination is on the participant (or their parent/legal guardian) to know the high-risk conditions and determine whether they can/should participate or not. The code of conduct/risk assessment form asks this question of each participant each time they attend an event. If they are unsure, they should consult their health care professional. All participants should receive some form of education prior to resuming activity. For more information, please see the “Who is Considered at Higher Risk for COVID-19” document on the main Special Olympics COVID Resources page. (6/17/2020)

12. Should Special Olympics Program Board approval include a plan for UCS programming as well as community-based programming?
Yes, each Program’s return to activity plan should address schools, even if much of it relies upon school or school district-specific policies and decisions. (6/17/2020)

13. Where do I find distance learning resources for Unified Champion Schools?
Distance Learning Resources (for schools) are available on Generation Unified. (6/17/2020)

Travel Considerations

1. Can participants travel between geographic areas for events and activities?
Refer to the protocol (revised, June 2021) for guidance, based on applicable risk category.

Please refer to this guidance document for additional considerations and practical tips with respect to overnight stays. (Updated 6/28/2021)

2. Are overnight stays permitted before/after/during Special Olympics competitions and events?
Refer to the protocol (revised, June, 2021) for guidance, based on applicable risk category.

Please refer to this guidance document for additional considerations and practical tips with respect to overnight stays. (Updated 6/28/2021)

Medical Forms

1. Can we provide extensions on the submission of athlete medical forms?
Special Olympics issued guidance on the period in which Programs may offer medical form extensions during COVID-19 in June 2020. An updated memo and guidance was issued in November 2020. This guidance is applicable to all existing athletes with previous medical clearance. New athletes should still submit a medical form prior to participation in Special Olympics sports. Medical Extension Guidance (November 2020). This guidance remains in effect as of June 2021. (Updated 6/28/2021)

2. Per the athlete medical extension memo, what does “full clearance” (regarding return to activities) mean?
If an athlete with a valid medical form on file is diagnosed with COVID, then they can either provide a note from their doctor clearing them to return to play or submit a whole new medical form. An athlete who has an expired medical should not be granted an extension beyond the allowable timeframe outlines in the athlete medical extension memo from SOI, and should submit a full, new physical exam and health history prior to resuming participation. (1/26/2021; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

Communicable Disease Waiver: U.S. Programs Only

1. I have questions regarding the Communicable Disease Waiver for participants, where can I learn more?
Please read this memo (issued April 16, 2021) for more details and frequently asked questions. (04/16/21; remains in effect 6/28/2021) 

2. Where can I find the waiver itself?
The waiver can be found on this COVID Resources page under “Forms” (03/11/2021; remains in effect 6/28/2021)

3. How can we track this form in GMS?
Please review the GMS Import Instructions—Communicable Disease Waiver and COVID Code of Conduct and Risk Form for a step-by-step process to import the GMS certification for these forms. (04/15/2021; remains in effect 6/28/2021)


1. Is SOI requiring participants be vaccinated/show proof of vaccination prior to returning to activities?
Special Olympics strongly recommends that all participants get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to them. Having 80% of participants vaccinated is one way to return to activities even if COVID rates are greater than 10 new cases per 100,000 people daily, on average. (1/26/2021; updated 6/28/2021)

NOTE: More stringent vaccine requirements may be in place for International events led by SOI and/or SO Regional offices.

2. Will SOI be creating awareness or educational materials for athletes regarding vaccines?
Yes, two toolkits about the COVID-19 vaccine were launched on 9 March 2021. There is an Education Toolkit that includes materials for athletes, caregivers and families to learn more about the vaccine. Additionally, there is an Advocacy Toolkit that includes materials for Programs to advocate for people with intellectual disabilities to have priority access to the vaccine. Access all COVID-19 vaccine resources here. (03-11-2021)

3. How should Accredited Special Olympics Programs respond to invitations to participate in or host vaccination events for our athletes/constituents?
Please see this vaccination event “decision tree” guidance document (DOCX) (PDF). This resource is intended to assist Programs as they consider participation / partnering and assess their potential liability. While this was created for U.S. Programs due to their shared insurance program structure, we hope non-U.S. programs will consider this best practice / template as well. (3/18/2021)

4. Under the Low Risk (Green) Level, what is meant by “Fully Vaccinated”?  Why can’t someone be only “partially vaccinated” and participate?
Per the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an individual is fully vaccinated two (2) weeks after completing all doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. If individual has received a single dose vaccine (e.g., Johnson and Johnson), they are considered fully vaccinated two (2) weeks after receiving the dose.

Having individuals fully vaccinated ensures they have the most protection from transmission of COVID-19. We will continue to monitor the data and evidence regarding partial vaccination and protection for the individual and transmission. If recommendations from leading health authorities is updated, the protocol will be revisited. (New 6/28/2021)

Return to Activities (R2A) Web Application

1. What does the Return to Activities (R2A) Application track?
The App allows both Program Users (e.g., Staff) and Public Users (e.g., Athletes, Unified partners, volunteers, families, coaches, etc.) to upload information regarding their COVID diagnosis and vaccination status. For example, if they are vaccinated against COVID-19, and/or if they have been diagnosed with and recovered from COVID-19 and were medically cleared to resume activities.  

2. Do Program Users need to enter all participants for their Program, or can individuals enter their own COVID information? 
The Program User does not have to enter all participants for their Program or event. The App URLs ( or can be shared with participants (e.g., Athletes, Unified partners, volunteers, families, coaches, etc.) to allow them to enter their own COVID information efficiently and securely as related to participation. 

3.Is an image of both sides of proof of COVID vaccination required when using the Return to Activities App? Does proof of COVID vaccination need to be uploaded to allow a user to complete their file? 
The App allows users to upload multiple images if both sides of the vaccination card are needed (dependent on card layout of applicable nation/jurisdiction). If there is information on both sides, it is recommended that you upload a separate image of both the front and back of a proof of vaccination card/document. Most common file formats recommended are PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and DOC. A participant file can be created with whatever information they have available to them and wish to provide. The R2A App does not require the upload of proof of vaccination, though the event or Program may require proof of vaccination be uploaded to allow participation. One can always return to the App later to update their information or upload a copy of their vaccination card. 

4. Is using the Return to Activities App mandatory for all Programs? 
Though it is not mandatory, using the App is highly encouraged as an efficient, safe, and secure way for Programs to obtain their Participant’s COVID-related information as may be required for individual Program’s Return to Activities. The App is not mandatory; however, it is recommended over other forms of data collection (e.g., Excel, Smart Sheet, Google Docs), as it is secure and has data privacy measures built in. 

5. What are the benefits of using the Return to Activities App in addition to GMS? 
If a Program already uses GMS to collect and centralize their participant’s general and COVID-related information, the App provides an online method for participants to enter in their own information and reduces the administrative burden on Program staff.  

6. Can the App be used for individual events and/or competitions? 
By collecting data for all participants on the App, the Program can then cross-reference that information as needed regarding those who may attend a particular event or competition.  
7. Can a Program User perform a bulk upload of participants’ vaccination cards? What about downloading proof of vaccination images from participants in my Program? 
Currently, proof of vaccination needs to be uploaded on an individual basis for each participant. Designated Program Users can be provided access to image file uploads of proof of vaccination for the Participants in their Program, contact to request this. 

8. How do I become an authorized user for my Program? 
Currently, Program user access is only for authorized users at the Accredited program level of the movement (i.e., state, provincial, territorial, national, etc.). Accredited Program level leaders should contact their respective SOI regional staff for more information. You can also email and SOI can direct you to the appropriate SOI regional staff for assistance. 

9. Where can I find the Program User and Public User Guides, as well as other importing and GMS-related guides? 
All guides for Programs can be found on the Return to Activities resources page

10. Who can I contact with questions about the Return to activities app? 
Please email