Home » COVID-19

Category: COVID-19

New Jersey Freezes Indoor Hockey for the Month of December

In his regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefing, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced:

All indoor youth and adult sports are being placed on a full pause – effective 6:00 AM on December 5th through January 2nd, 2021.

We’re seeing outbreaks related to indoor sports, and this will help slow the spread.

Only exceptions: collegiate-level and professional teams. — @GovMurphy on Twitter

NJ Governor Murphy Announcing Ban on Ice Hockey
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announcing a ban on ice hockey for the month of December 2020.

Murphy’s announcement was followed a few minutes later by a statement from Dr. Edward Lifshitz, Medical Director of the New Jersey Department of Health, where he said that 20 outbreaks constituting more than 100 cases have been associated with youth hockey. Dr. Lifshitz was speaking at the same briefing.

NJ Health Director Lifshitz Announcing Ban on Ice Hockey
NJ Health Director Dr. Lifshitz said 20 outbreaks consisting of 100 total cases are attributable to ice hockey.

Percentage of New Jersey Cases Attributable to Ice Hockey: 3/100 of 1%

According to statistics provided by NJ.com on November 25, “New Jersey has now reported 313,863 total positive tests out of more than 5.7 million administered since the state reported its first case March 4.”

This means that roughly 0.031861035%– That’s 3/100 of 1%– of New Jersey COVID-19 cases are associated with youth hockey.

Percentage of New Jersey Cases Where Patient Refuses to Provide Contacts Upon Request from a Health Department Contact Tracer: 69 Percent

I knew from back in September that the Middletown Township Health Department had experienced issues with getting members of the hockey community to comply with requests for contact tracing.

However, until today I didn’t know that 69 percent of all patients in COVID-19 cases in New Jersey refuse to participate in contact tracing.

If 69% of all COVID-19 cases don’t comply, the hockey community is not the problem.

Here is the slide from Governor Murphy’s presentation documenting the 69-percent figure:

 

 

Refused to provide contacts (of cases followed up) 69 percent
Refused to provide contacts (of cases followed up) 69 percent, source https://twitter.com/GovMurphy/status/1333460689231482889.

 

Note to Readers– RinkAtlas News Blog Was On Hiatus Due to Move

My family and I moved two weeks ago today from Newtown Borough to Northampton Township, Pennsylvania. Both of these municipalities are in Bucks County, on the eastern border of Pennsylvania. They are very close to each other.

The logistics of moving were so onerous that it was impossible for me to keep writing the RinkAtlas News Blog and to keep commenting on current events impacting North American ice arenas and park rinks.

In some respects, the timing of this move was unfortunate because a great deal happened to change the newly established routines that have been forced upon the hockey and figure skating communities by COVID-19. But in some ways, the timing was fortuitous because I was able to focus on something that mattered a great deal to my family and its future.

We will pick up with coverage of our form of hockey news from this weekend. I look forward to bringing some context to the events surrounding the hockey community. –Dave Aiello

Massachusetts Governor Cites Clubs Contact Tracing Refusals for Lockdown

Boston.com reported on Wednesday that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said that “most” hockey teams refused to hand over rosters so that COVID-19 contact tracers could follow up with players and their families. The report goes on to say, “According to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, there were even several instances of coaches telling families not to respond to contact tracers.”

Massachusetts Hockey’s statement on the temporary shutdown reads, in part:

While many of the players, families and facilities throughout the state have been following the guidance as expected, there have been situations and areas where the Commonwealth feels compliance with the guidance has not been followed.   Unfortunately, unless we are able to correct these issues, we would anticipate any further shutdown could be significantly longer than the current two weeks. This is related to both the guidance issued as well as cooperation with the contact tracing process. –Massachusetts Hockey

In addition to the previously cited issues, MA HHS Secretary Sudders reportedly said that there were a few circumstances where coaches suggested that a player’s quarantine meant they could still play for a different, non-quarantined team. This allegation was mildly disputed by Mass Hockey President Bob Joyce.

RinkAtlas has previously noted many cases where activity outside of the walls of the arena were contributing factors to COVID-19 outbreaks traced to amateur hockey. We’ve also identified situations where hockey organizations who knew they had COVID-positive members did not follow contact tracing-best practices, and instead relied on the results of rapid COVID tests which are known to under-report positives.

It’s frustrating to see hockey singled out in this fashion. However, there is no excuse for not participating in contact tracing and not following best practices with respect to mask use and social distancing to the extent that is possible in the context of hockey practices and games, and to the extent that is required by state and provincial law.

NH Ice Arenas to Reopen October 30, COVID-19 Tests for All Participants by November 6

On Saturday, The New Hampshire Union Leader reported that NH ice arenas will reopen on October 30 with the requirement that hockey organizations test their volunteers, coaches, staff, referees and athletes by November 6.

According to the article, “Rink staff, volunteers, coaches, staff, referees and athletes must all show they were tested for COVID-19 at least once between Oct. 15 and Nov. 6. The test can be either a normal PCR test or a rapid-result antigen test. The only exception for the testing requirement is for people who tested positive for COVID-19 between July 15 and Oct. 15.”

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu reportedly ordered the simultaneous reopening and testing over objections by both sides to certain dimensions of proposals to reopen. The Division of Public Health apparently wanted all participants tested before any ice arenas reopened. The Governor’s Economic Recovery Taskforce wanted the rinks reopened as soon as possible without any mandated COVID-19 tests.

Other rules imposed on ice arenas and hockey programs remain largely similar to before the lockdown.

Axios Notes a “Youth Sports Exodus” While New England Governors Lock Down Ice Rinks

Jeff Tracy at Axios reports Youth sports remain in a moment of crisis, as the health and financial situations brought on by the pandemic continue wreaking havoc. As evidence, he cites an Aspen Institute survey of more than 1,000 parents with sport-playing kids between ages 6 and 18.

Among the most significant findings of that study:

  • 64% cite fear of their child contracting COVID as a barrier to resuming sports.
  • 6.4 fewer hours: Kids are spending just 7.2 hours per week playing sports, down from 13.6 before the pandemic.

The kids that are trying to continue to play indoor team sports like ice hockey are doing so in the greatest sustained period of uncertainty in history. Aspen said that 29% of parents said “their kids are simply not interested in sports, up from 19% when they were last asked in June.”

Who can blame the kids for wondering why they should try, if rinks are getting locked down again because parents are getting infected with COVID-19 through their hangout sessions in the arena parking lot during practice?

We hate to single out governors of New England states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but blanket orders shutting down all arenas in each state don’t get at the root causes of the small COVID-19 outbreaks that they are trying to tamp down.

We can’t say that we have definitive data as to why these small outbreaks are occurring. But if you look at what’s happening around local ice arenas in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, you’d find:

  • Parents and guardians congregating in parking lots for an hour or more at least twice a week, often not social distancing or wearing masks correctly. These parents do so because they are prohibited from staying in the arena during their young hockey player or figure skater’s event.
  • Arena safety policies which look good on paper, but are often inconsistently applied. Most arenas are requiring players / skaters to dress at home and only put on and adjust items like skates and helmets inside the arena, which is good. But in your typical local arena, there is not enough staff walking around and politely saying, “hey don’t sit that close to each other”, or “wear your mask while you’re tying your skates”. They also aren’t enforcing the one-way flow of customers so groups going on the ice and off the ice don’t meet, and they aren’t enforcing separate area for tying skates if there is not enough time between sessions to clear the arena.
  • If arenas were really worried about enforcing social distancing, they’d do something like expanding the bench areas, so that players and coaches had more room off ice to spread out between shifts of a hockey game.

In terms of things that could really cut down on community spread opportunities at rinks, these New England states would be better off asking the local police to cruise the parking lots of local arenas in the late afternoon, and remind parents not to congregate– or at least to wear masks and separate themselves as much as possible while waiting for their kids who are inside.

Massachusetts Orders Rinks to Close Through November 7 To Control COVID-19

WCVB reports Massachusetts public health officials ordered all indoor ice rinks to close through November 7, reportedly in order to try to control “numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 that were traced back to hockey games”.

The Department of Public Health press release says, “There have been at least 30 clusters of COVID-19 associated with organized ice hockey activities involving residents from more than 60 municipalities in Massachusetts. Each of these includes two or more confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, totaling 108 confirmed cases.”

Massachusetts joins nearby New Hampshire in locking down indoor ice arenas, although New Hampshire’s lockdown expires on October 29.

Massachusetts local arenas must close by 5:00pm Eastern Time on Friday.

This order specifically exempts college and professional programs.

Thanks to Don Warren for pointing out this important story.

University of Illinois Ice Arena Shut Down Since the Beginning of the Summer

The Daily Illini reported Monday that University Ice Arena has been closed since the beginning of the Summer, and this is causing ice sports teams and clubs to seek intermediate-term homes for practice and competition.

According to the article, “Sports affected by the closure include the University men’s and women’s hockey clubs, the synchronized skating club team and the regional speed skating club…. The lobby of the Ice Arena is currently being used as a COVID-19 testing site, and the ice of the rink has been melted down since the start of the summer.”

The University of Illinois announced before the academic year began that the Ice Arena would remain closed for the rest of calendar year 2020.

As with many arena closures in the less densely populated areas of the Midwest, alternative arenas for these organizations are relatively far away. Instead of University Ice Arena on campus, the Men’s ACHA Division II team is looking at tryouts and practices at Bloomington Ice Center in Bloomington, IL, an hour drive northwest of campus, or IceValley Centre Ice Arena in Kankakee, IL, an hour and 15 minutes north of campus.

RinkAtlas Arena Directory Updates

  • University Ice Arena, we relocated the rink on the north side of East Armory Avenue rather than the south, we added alternative names to improve search, we added 1931 as the year it opened, the ice surface dimensions of 192 x 115 feet, which is 8 feet shorter and 15 feet wider than an Olympic surface, and we added the seating capacity, which is 1,200.
  • Bloomington Ice Center, we renamed this arena from Pepsi Ice Center. We also updated the website to its new URL.
  • IceValley Centre, we renamed this arena from OAK Orthopedic Sports Arena. We also updated the website to its new URL.

 

Vermont Freezes Ice Rink Schedules for 2 Weeks Through October 30

The Newport Daily Express reported Sunday that Vermont Governor Phil Scott ordered Vermont ice rinks to stop accepting ice rentals from 5:00pm October 16 through midnight October 30. According to the article, Governor Scott said the directive is intended to prevent an influx of new users from high risk areas into Vermont’s ice rinks.

Governor Scott’s order may be the most interesting executive order governing ice rinks in effect in the United States. Rather than ordering Vermont ice arenas to close for two weeks, he ordered them to stop accepting new ice rentals during that period.

Governor Scott said, “As of today {Friday, October 16}, New Hampshire’s skating facilities were closed by their governor for two weeks in response to outbreaks that have resulted in 158 cases of COVID-19 among 23 different ice hockey teams. In addition, there is an outbreak in central Vermont that may be connected to the outbreaks in New Hampshire. To reduce the risk to Vermonters, and to help sustain the progress we have made, rinks in Vermont may not take any additional reservations for the next two weeks.”

The Vermont order only makes sense in the context of the order issued by Governor Sununu of New Hampshire. Since New Hampshire has closed all arenas for two weeks, it’s likely that some New Hampshire-based amateur hockey organizations would try to avoid the lockdown by booking ice in nearby Vermont to continue their seasons as scheduled.

Rather than close Vermont arenas, Governor Scott is prohibiting new reservations, which prevents anyone from booking new ice for the next two weeks. But the existing holders of ice reservations may continue with their plans.

Since Maine is also locked down to some extent, this move by Governor Scott forces New Hampshire hockey teams to live with the temporary restrictions now in place in New Hampshire.

Although it may be a deftly-crafted executive order by Governor Scott, none of these actions in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are pro-hockey.

Update

On October 19, Vermont’s Department of Health announced it had been investigating COVID-19 associated with hockey and broomball leagues at Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center. According to the press release:

“The Health Department has been investigating cases associated with adult and youth hockey leagues and an adult broomball league. Each of the teams practiced or played at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier earlier this month. At this time there are 30 confirmed cases associated with the outbreak.” — Vermont Department of Health Press Release

As a result of this finding the VT Health Department set up a pop-up testing clinic to be held on Thursday, October 22 at Barre Auditorium for asymptomatic “people with direct links to the teams and their close contacts”. There would also be special testing clinic from Tuesday to Friday at Central Vermont Medical Center’s (CVMC) Acute Respiratory Clinic at 1311 Montpelier-Barre Road in Berlin. These tests are for “asymptomatic people who have concerns about potential exposure”.

RinkAtlas Arena Directory Update

CNN Health Article Argues Indoor Hockey is a Potential Superspreader for COVID-19

On Thursday CNN Health reported Indoor sports potential superspreader events, CDC says, after most ice hockey players in Florida game infected with Covid-19. According to the article:

“One hockey player infected as many as 14 other people at a single indoor ice hockey game last spring, Florida health department officials reported Thursday.”

“That means indoor sports games can turn into superspreader events, the researchers said in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report.” –CNN Health

Source of CNN Health’s Report: A CDC MMWR

This appears to be CNN Health’s first report on COVID-19’s impact on the sport of ice hockey. Apparently all of this stems from a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called An Outbreak of COVID-19 Associated with a Recreational Hockey Game — Florida, June 2020. This report was contributed by three public health officials at various levels in the State of Florida, and is written in a scientific journal style.

The article references some but not all of the COVID-19 cases associated with hockey that were previously reported on by RinkAtlas:

Hockey May Not Be as Dangerous as the Florida Health Officials Believe

This report and the supporting documents from the CDC should be taken seriously, as it represents anecdotal evidence that can be used to argue that hockey is a dangerous activity from a COVID-19 transmission perspective.

However, they all need to be weighed against published scientific evidence which does not result in the same conclusions. And they need to be understood as the results of one investigation of a COVID-19 outbreak at one arena in Florida.

Another issue is that the MMWR does not sufficiently separate off-ice activity from on-ice. A health official can make the argument that they are inseparable, but the root cause of off-ice activity problems associated with not wearing masks and not social distancing are not problems that are inherent in the sport of ice hockey. These are problems with the structure and content of the off-ice activity.

For instance, banning locker room use and demanding that participants leave the arena with their skates removed and their equipment on could arguably reduce the transmissibility of COVID-19 inside hockey arenas. These are policies that have been adopted by many leagues, teams, and arena management groups.

The questions about these policies are:

  1. are they truly effective?
  2. are people who participate in hockey as players, coaches, officials, and parents of youth hockey players, doing everything they can to protect themselves?

Thanks to Peter Caggiano for the tip on the CNN Health article.

18 Players from Yale University’s Men’s Hockey Team Test Positive for COVID-19

The Yale Daily News reported yesterday that 18 players for Yale University’s Men’s Hockey Team tested positive for COVID-19 over the past three days. According to the article:

“According to a University-wide email from COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler on Thursday afternoon, there have been 12 additional cases among team members. There are now a total of 18 COVID-19 cases stemming from the original cluster — out of the 19 team members currently enrolled and living in New Haven.” –Yale Daily News

The university says that it is making all efforts at contact tracing, directing any people who are identified as close contacts of the infected team members to isolate themselves for two weeks.

This story has developed over the past three or four days as evidenced by a series of tweets from Yale Daily News:

Athletic facilities at Yale, including Ingalls Rink, Payne Whitney Gymnasium, and the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center, have been closed for cleaning until Oct. 19.

It’s hard to imagine that this development will not impact the discussion of when to restart the ECAC Hockey League and NCAA Division I Hockey in general.

Come back to RinkAtlas for more coverage of COVID-19 and the impact on ice hockey and indoor arenas in North America.