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

As of April 16, 2021

Points of Contact | Background | Phases 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

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, email (6/17/2020)

2. How do we let our Region and SOI know who is the selected point of contact for our Program?
You can complete the web form to submit the name of the person who will serve as your Program’s point of contact. There will be periodic calls to address questions/concerns and share best practices, challenges and feedback. (6/17/2020)


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)

2. What will be the process and timeline for revisions to the protocol?
Currently there are no set timelines for potential revisions. 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. (9/23/2020)

With the recent developments in vaccines, SOI is reviewing recommendations from health authorities and additional guidance to Programs will be forthcoming. In the meantime, SOI is not currently planning to issue additional guidance on events larger than 50, if there is still community transmission. The recommendation from SOI remains that events larger than 50 people should NOT occur while there is community transmission of COVID (and event size may be smaller based on local regulations). Once there is no longer community transmission of COVID in an area, larger events may occur under the SOI protocol provided they are also within the regulations of local authorities.  (12/8/2020)

Phases and Timeline

1. What is the timeline for roll-out?
Starting July 1, 2020, Programs may begin in phase 1 provided that their state/country authorities have moved out of “Stay at Home”/shut down orders. The timeline for each phase will be dependent on the state/country authorities in which the Programming is occurring. If authorities have announced an end to the “Stay at Home” order, the Program may begin with Phase 1 of the Special Olympics protocol with gatherings of 10 people or less (if local regulations are more stringent, then those must be followed). When local authorities have moved to the second phase after “Stay at Home”, Programs may choose to move to Phase 2 of the Special Olympics protocol. The Special Olympics guidance is intended as a minimum standard, not to replace any local regulations or guidance. If your locale has more stringent restrictions in place, Programs must follow those. Programs are expected to remain in each phase for at least 2 weeks, even if local areas move through phases more quickly. (6/17/2020)

Programs should also refer to governmental guidance and revert to earlier phases if COVID-19 transmission increases. For example, if the Program were currently in Phase 1, but the local authorities determine that the community must resume “Stay at Home” orders, you must revert to Phase 0. (6/17/2020)

2. Is there any further guidance for events between 50 people (Phase 2) and no size restrictions (Phase 3)?
With the recent developments in vaccines, SOI is reviewing recommendations from health authorities and additional guidance to Programs will be forthcoming. In the meantime, SOI is not currently planning to issue additional guidance on events larger than 50, if there is still community transmission. The recommendation from SOI remains that events larger than 50 people should NOT occur while there is community transmission of COVID (and event size may be smaller based on local regulations). Once there is no longer community transmission of COVID in an area, larger events may occur under the SOI protocol provided they are also within the regulations of local authorities. (12/8/2020)

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)

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 protocols for those aspects at a minimum. (6/17/2020)

The possibility of high-risk conditions in populations within the Special Olympics movement should be conveyed to leaders/authorities. (6/17/2020)

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)

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, as noted in the protocol, the Program should suspend programming for at least two weeks if an individual who had been in attendance tests positive and individuals should self-quarantine. (8/11/2020)

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 be 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. Those individuals should not return to activities until after 14 days from exposure, if they do not have symptoms or test positive themselves. (7/10/20)

5. In Phase 1 and Phase 2 , does the number restriction include any non-Special Olympics staff may be running/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 10 or 50 or less limit. 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 they should be counted in the number of participants.

In addition to Special Olympics guidance, of course, Programs will have to follow the guidance of the venue/facility (as well as the local authorities) if more stringent in terms of number of participants allowed within the venue/facility overall for Phase 1 and 2. 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. (7/1/20)

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 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. (8/11/20)

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)

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)

4. May a Program modify and/or add an indemnification clause the COVID-19 Code of Conduct and Risk 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. 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)

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)

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)

2. What if our Program doesn’t have the capacity to do thermometer screenings onsite?
Standard of care and medical authorities recommend that, in Phases 1 and 2, 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)

3. Does the COVID screening 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. (7/1/20)

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. The recommended protocol for Special Olympics activities would be that the individual who was potentially exposed must stay home and should not attend practice or SO events until 14 days after exposure. 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 may want to consider having virtual practices for two weeks, to ensure there wasn’t spread.
  3. If the SO individual ultimately develops symptoms and test positives, then practice must be suspended for at least 2 weeks and all participants should be notified, while maintaining privacy, that an individual at 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. (7/27/20)

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. (1/26/21)

Sport Specific Guidance

1. Are there specific sports that are not allowed to return in certain phases?
Sporting activities should focus on individual skill development and conditioning to avoid indirect contact until Phase 2 and direct contact until phase 3. For example, you might resume basketball individual skills practice in phases 1 and 2, but not scrimmages or games until phase 3. Or you might fully resume singles bocce in Phase 1, with small groups, physical distancing, and sanitation/disinfection protocols in place.

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 phase. The sport specific resources 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. (6/17/2020)

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 permitted. For example, an individual practices dribbling and then the ball being disinfected before being used by the next individual to practice their skills. Soccer drills that involve passing the ball by kicking and staying 6 feet/2 meters apart is not indirect 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. (7/1/20)

3. Can Bocce Doubles be done in Phase 1 if proper physical distancing can be maintained?
Provided the proper physical distancing and the disinfection between use of the balls is maintained, then Bocce doubles may be done. The sport specific list is outlining general risk categories – not what sports that can and cannot be done in each Phase. As noted in the Special Olympics Sport Specific recommendations, risk can decline if the requirements for disinfection and distancing, and PPE are maintained. (7/1/20)

4. (For North America Programs only) Does the SONA sports risk assessment align with the Protocol phases?
A: Sporting activities should focus on individual skill development and conditioning to avoid indirect contact until Phase 2 and direct contact until Phase 3. 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)

5. 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 back 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 here 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. The intention behind this is in regards to individuals living in licensed long-term care facilities. (6/18/2020)

This issue will continued to be evaluated and further guidance may still come on this topic. (6/18/2020)

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 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. This guidance will continue to be evaluated based on evolving clinical and legal considerations. (6/25/20)

Venue Set-up

1. How should food and beverages at events be handled?
During Phases 1 and 2, participants should bring their own food and water/beverage if needed, when possible. 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. 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. (6/17/2020)

Volunteers distributing should be wearing gloves and masks (for phases as required by local regulations). (6/17/2020)

Have handwashing station close to meal area. (6/17/2020)

Have marked spaces where the individuals will eat showing 2m/6ft separation during phases 1 and 2. Spacing between each person may need supervision. (6/17/2020)

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 (50 people). (6/17/2020)

Have signage 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. Specific guidance on the purchase of PPE with Healthy Athlete capacity grants to be used exclusively for non-Healthy Athletes events (e.g., sports practice or competition) is still under discussion with our funders and is not yet approved. (6/17/2020)

In the U.S., Department of Education grant funds may be used to assist with PPE for school-based activities. Please contact the UCS grant management team with questions. (6/18/2020)

We are also in discussion with some vendors about possible discounted rates for bulk ordering. (6/17/2020)

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?
It is not known if face shields provide any benefit as source control to protect others from the spray of respiratory particles. 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. (7/1/20)

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?
At this time, if an individual is unable to wear a mask for any reason, they will not be able to participate in Special Olympics activities. The use of the mask is not only to protect the individual, but to protect others in attendance and reduce possible transmission. Individuals unable or unwilling to wear a mask in Phases 1 and 2 should be invited to participate in virtual or at home activities. (7/1/20)


1. Does the Return to Activity protocol apply to fundraising events?
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.
(Updated 10/19/20)

2. Can Athlete Leaders participate in fundraising events, in a specific role/leadership role related to the event, in Phases 1, 2 or 3?
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. (7/10/20)

3. May athletes participate in in-person fundraising events in Phases 1, 2 or 3 (events in Phase 1 highly unlikely due to capacity restraints)?
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. (7/10/20)

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. Maintain 6 feet physical distancing in and out of the water at all times, including spectators.
  5. Must wear face coverings when participants are not in water. Masks are not recommended in the water or for children 2 years of age and younger.

Programs outside the U.S. should consult their respective insurers and health agencies for guidance. (9/14/20)

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. (03/11/21)

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. 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. (7/27/20)

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?
The answer depends on the type of activity.

  1. The answer is “no” if the activity is considered to be “school-operated”.
  2. The answer is “yes” if the activity is considered to be “Special Olympics-operated” or “co-operated”.

As stated in the Special Olympics Return to Activity Protocol: If school activities transition into Special Olympics community activities (e.g., the final competition/tournament is hosted by Special Olympics), then proper return to play protocol and necessary precautions for Special Olympics events, as outlined in this document, must be followed.”
2. How do we determine if a school needs to follow the Special Olympics Return to Activity Protocol?
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”.

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.

4. In many situations, there will be schools at different phases, how do we as Special Olympics plan for this?
When in doubt, follow the Special Olympics guidelines or the most restrictive phase guidelines of any participating school

Align Special Olympics Unified Sports competition schedules with that of existing school sports programs and activities (I.e.; utilize the existing coordination systems taking place between school athletics departments)

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

Programs should have a strong plan for virtual activities to continue throughout the school year, regardless of which 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 student-athletes' decision as to whether or not to participate. However, if the school’s 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 on its premises and under its auspices.

7. Who is responsible/accountable for implementing onsite screening protocols and documentation of them at each local activity?
For school activities, it would be whoever 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.

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

It is incumbent upon the Special Olympics local Program/coach to know the Special Olympics protocol and ensure the 3rd party’s event meets those standards, at a minimum.

For any overnight or travel scenarios, the local Program/coach would be responsible for upholding their Program’s return to activity protocols and being in compliance with their Program’s current phase restrictions (which may prohibit travel and/or overnight stays).

9. Is there a restriction and/or recommendation on locker room access?
The SONA return to sport “additional considerations” document (found in the SONA R2A Dropbox) recommends that 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.

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

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.

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.

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

Travel Considerations

1. Can participants travel between geographic areas in Phase 1 and/or 2?
International travel and inter-state (in the US) travel should NOT occur in Phase 1 or 2. The protocol notes that local competition/events are permitted in Phase 1 and 2, provided size restrictions and risk mitigation is followed. If travel within a country/state/territory is planned for an event in Phase 1 or 2, participation should be restricted to local geographic areas that have similarly low COVID-19 transmission rates as the host site so as to not increase the risk of COVID spread within or between communities.

If participants will be traveling to an event, they should practice social distancing and wear a mask while on transportation with non-household members. As much as possible, participants should travel with members of their families and or individuals with whom they live. If Special Olympics is providing transportation (i.e., a bus), capacity must be limited so that social distancing can be followed on the bus and masks are required. Hand hygiene must also be followed and enforced.

Additional guidance for transportation and travel for Phase 3 may be provided in the future. (Updated 10/21/20)

2. Are overnight stays in hotels permitted before/after/during Special Olympics competitions and events in Phase 1 and 2?
No, at this time Programs should not organize events in which participants must stay in a hotel before/during/after an event or competition or coordinate room blocks. Longer events and overnight stays substantially increase the risk of community transmission so it is not recommended that Programs in Phase 1 and 2 move forward with such events. (Updated 10/21/20)

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. 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)

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. (1/26/21)

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) 

2. Where can I find the waiver itself?
The waiver can be found on this COVID Resources page under “Forms” (03/11/21)

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)


1. Is SOI requiring participants be vaccinated/show proof of vaccination prior to returning to activities?
At this time, SOI is not recommending Programs require vaccination for participants to return to local activities. Any requirements and/or additional guidance from local and national authorities should be followed. (1/26/21)

2. Are any modifications being made to the Return to Activity Protocol in light of the vaccines?
No, it is too early in the vaccine process to make a modification to the Return to Activity Protocol. Special Olympics strongly recommends that all Programs continue to follow the SOI Return to Activities Protocol, distributed in July 2020. (1/26/21)

3. Will SOI be creating awareness or educational materials for athletes regarding vaccines?
Yes, two toolkits about the COVID-19 vaccine were launched on March 9, 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)

4. 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. (3/18/21)