“Michael Andrew, the highest-profile unvaccinated American Olympian, refused to wear a mask in the mixed zone,” USA Today Sports columnist Christine Brennan wrote via Twitter on Friday, July 30, alongside photos of the swimmer, 22, maskless in a press area. “Every other U.S. swimmer I’ve seen all week has worn one.”
Brennan reported that the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee decided not to penalize Andrew for his decision to go maskless after originally releasing a statement saying he was in “violation of the COVID mitigation protocols.”
According to the USOPC’s Tokyo COVID-19 protocols playbook, released last month, American athletes are allowed to remove their masks when speaking with press. The committee later released a statement saying Andrew “has been reminded of the Games policy and established COVID mitigation protocols.”
However, the Minnesota native quickly became the most visible unvaccinated U.S. Olympian, causing a stir with some fans amid the spread of COVID-19, and the Delta variant throughout the world.
“Arrogant. I hoped his swim last night offered him a dish of humility, but now I wonder,” one Twitter user replied to Brennan’s photos of Andrew in the press room, referencing his fifth-place finish in the men’s 200-meter individual medley on Friday morning.
A second user commented, “This is disgraceful! Vaccinations should have been required for all Olympians out of respect for the people of Japan, who have not been as fortunate with their vaccine rollout.”
A third Twitter user noted, “No mask, no medal, Michael,” while a fourth person tried to lighten the mood, writing, “Refuses to wear a shirt, too.”
Andrew addressed his choice to go maskless in the mixed zone on Friday, telling USA Today Sports, “For me, it’s pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water, so I feel like my health is a little more tied to being able to breathe than protecting what’s coming out of my mouth.”
He continued: “I think it’s great that there’s procedures, but at the end of the day, all of us here have been under quarantine and in the same testing protocol, so there’s a level of safety (that’s) comfortable when we’re racing.”
The outlet reported that Andrew is currently the only swimmer they’ve seen refusing to put on a mask to do interviews. High-profile athletes, including Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel, have continued to wear their face coverings after each race.