Paige Pualani Gabel, president and owner of V2 Safe Solutions, tells a story emblematic of the challenges that sports event organizers have faced for the past year: Nine members of an 11-person women’s volleyball team contracted COVID-19.
It turns out the competition wasn’t the issue. But once the young girls got back to their hotel, they had a pizza party to celebrate.
What once was a simple way to wind down from a day of athletics is now a health risk. Vaccination efforts across the country are moving forward at breakneck speed, with 16-year-olds and up eligible in each state. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing shots for 12- to 15-year-olds, but younger children will likely be waiting until this winter.
Parents and coaches are “going to have to be smarter,” Gabel says as youth sports are being scrutinized after outbreaks stemming from hockey tournaments, volleyball events and more. In some cases, even adults taking extra precautions at similar events have died from the coronavirus.
Some localities have begun mandating COVID testing as youth sports start to regain their foothold among daily lives. The fear is virus variants may target unprotected children, who will likely became a larger demographic of positive tests now that many adults have been vaccinated.
Such concerns are why Gabel began V2 Safe Solutions. When not running a volleyball club in her home state of Michigan—a state the virus has hit particularly hard of late—Gabel spends her time in her native Hawaii. During the pandemic, Gabel saw many restaurants and stores close in Hawaii because tourists were missing in action. She knew fast and accurate testing would be critical to bringing back hospitality dollars.
“What really impacted me was seeing Waikiki boarded up,” she recalls.
V2 presents itself as a testing concierge service to smooth the potential hard feelings and headaches associated with monitoring COVID-19 cases. It partners with an Australian technology company to set up QR codes and other tools to track attendees’ health and movements.
“The concept of V2, especially specifically in terms of hospitality, is to find a way for everyone to get back to the fun and enjoyable parts of life safely,” Gabel explains. “The vaccine isn’t going to be this amazing path to do whatever you want.”
Accurate and fast testing can let the games go on, and also provide some legal protection for event organizers, she says.
Her hope is to be ahead of the curve come fall, when events are expected to pick up dramatically. The NFL, for instance, has already said it is committed to maximum attendance at its games, and UFC is also promoting a major fight to be a sellout in Las Vegas.
Such goals being set before herd immunity is reached give room for companies like V2 to find a niche. Beyond the testing services, Gabel is speaking at webinars to offer guidance to hold safe events, particularly as more participants are welcomed and international travel gains greater regularity.
“We’re very committed to the tech,” she says. “It’s going to get us back to living life in a very safe yet enjoyable way.”