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Coronavirus throws both teams into unhappy hockey games

They ranged in age from 19 to 53, weekend warriors who probably grew up playing hockey on ponds, in youth leagues and on high school teams. Even as adults, they could not leave the ice. Despite their combined athleticism and skill, they were no match for coronavirus.

Their fateful match took place on June 16 in Tampa, Fla. For 60 minutes, the 22 men switched scales, sweated, spat and checked themselves up and down the ice in an attempt to reach a hard rubber puck and control its trajectory. with a stick.

Five days later, 1

4 out of 22 players had developed symptoms of COVID-19. A fifteenth person, an employee at the ice rink, also became ill. Thirteen of these 15 people tested positive for a coronavirus infection. The other two were not tested.

All of the patients appeared to be infected by a single person who did not develop any external symptoms of COVID-19 until the day after he had fit for the evening game.

None of the remaining eight players showed symptoms of COVID-19, so none were tested for infection. But if they had been, the documented infection rate could have been even higher.

For hockey players eager for a chance to lace up their skates, hit the ice and escape the pandemic for a while, the consequences are bleak.

“The ice rink is a place likely to be suitable for COVID-19 transmission as an indoor environment where deep breathing occurs and people are close to each other,” three members of the Florida Department of Health wrote in a published report this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the authors, David Atrubin, identified himself as a hockey player in the Tampa area and ruled out anti-hockey bias as a likely motive for the finding.

The case highlights several characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that have made it so difficult to control.

The first is the role of “silent spreaders.” The “index patient” – who developed a fever, cough, sore throat and headache the day after the match – apparently felt fine the night he appeared on the field to play.

Researchers have found that people infected with coronavirus appear to be contagious, starting at approx. 2½ day before their symptoms become apparent. In fact, a study published in the journal Nature found that the peak of this “viral secretion” came about 18 hours before symptoms began.

The index patient spread the virus to eight of his 10 teammates, five out of 11 players on the opposing team and the pitch on the field. (Neither of the two judges became ill.) Once infected, it took an average of four to five days (and as long as 14 days) for the next round of sacrifice to become ill. At that time, each probably spread the coronavirus “silently” to others. (Florida health officials did not report any cases other than those directly related to the game.)

Meanwhile, some of the eight players who never got sick may have even had the virus and spread it to others under the radar. Since they were not tested, there is no way to know.

The report also highlights a point where researchers and public health officials have been going back and forth since early in the pandemic: that coronavirus, under the right conditions, spreads quite effectively from one person to another through the air.

This is especially true when people who do not wear masks stand close – or in the case of hockey control, bump, shoulder and drive to the net in close contact with other people.

None of the Tampa hockey players wore cloth face covers during the game or using their separate locker rooms. During the game, some used face-shielding metal cages or plastic half-screens. But they are better at protecting themselves from a swollen stick or a flying puck than coronavirus particles in the air.

While so-called “aerosol transmission” has long been suspected of proliferation, it was not until this month that the CDC recognized that these particles might play a key role in the pandemic.

U.S. health officials have long warned that an infected person’s sneezing or coughing can infect people at very close distances. They also focused on the threat of drops from the coughs and sneezes that land on door handles, railings and other surfaces with high contact – a threat that can be countered by frequent hand washing and the use of disinfectant.

But despite evidence from super-spreading incidents in meat-packing plants, choir exercises and high-intensity training courses, they resisted the growing hypothesis that enough viruses to make someone sick could be expelled in the spirit of an infected person and then linger long enough in the air to sucked in by another person.

In that hockey game in June, drops, both large and small, merged, likely to create a super-spreading event.

Hockey is mostly played in indoor courts that are cavernous and open. But in places like steaming Tampa, outside ventilation would mean an unwelcome loss of the cool air that helps maintain ice.

A hockey goal on the ice in a local public ice rink

The environment of an indoor ice hockey rink in a place like Florida contributes to a super-spreading event under the right circumstances.

(Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)

Amateur teams typically play three periods lasting 15 to 20 minutes each, alternating ice time with push against teammates on a bench in a plexiglass enclosure. When jumping on and off the ice, players tend to spit and expel mucus. The effort of skating and either disrupting or averting opposing players causes heavy breathing. Scrums and arrow-ups in corners where the puck often ends are common.

All of this is happening in a room measuring 200 feet by 85 feet, surrounded by plexiglass for the safety of the spectators. And that is before the spitting, shouting and shared surfaces players encounter in the locker room.

This game involved a limited number of players. Yet it seems to meet the criteria for a super-spreader event – a single assembly of people capable of activating a wide network of infections that can quickly become too large for local public health authorities to track and contain .

The account was published in Friday’s edition of the CDC’s weekly report on morbidity and mortality.

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