Oh, puck. If you want to play indoor ice hockey exactly as you played it before 2020, you can put these plans on ice. A new publication in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Weekly Report on Illness and Mortality (MMWR) described how an indoor ice hockey game led to a Covid-19 coronavirus super-spreading event. There have also been other reports of outbreaks among ice hockey players, including 18 members of the Yale men’s hockey team who tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus over the past three days.
In the MMWR publication, David Atrubin, Michael Wiese, and Becky Bohinc of the Florida Department of Health detailed what happened after a recreational ice hockey game took place on an indoor ice rink in Tampa Bay, Florida. When three members of a health department describe an ice hockey game, there is a decent chance that something went wrong. The game pitted two 11-player teams against each other. The teams consisted of men from 19 to 53 years.
Now this game was played on June 16, 2020. It involves three unanswered haircuts after the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic was declared a pandemic. It’s about three months after public health experts began urging everyone to practice social distance, do you know the entire stay six feet or a Denzel (because Denzel Washington is about six feet tall) apart all the time.
However, a regular ice hockey game that these guys played for 60 minutes is not social distance. The only way to stay six feet apart while controlling someone (who is essentially throwing your body at another person in a non-romantic way) is to wear about 720 layers of clothing. It gives or takes some layers, depending on whether one of these layers is pads or Spanx. Plus, the players sat next to each other on the bench during the game and spent approx. 20 minutes before the match and 20 minutes after the game mixed and mixed.
In addition, there is very heavy breathing during an ice hockey game. Not because there is avocado toast around, but because there can be lots of physical exertion. Deeper and stronger breathing can lead to more viruses being expelled from the nose and mouth if the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) happens to treat your body like a cheap motel.
The players also did not wear face masks while playing. Check it out. Some wore standard ice hockey face masks. This included those resembling either grocery carts in front of the face (metal cages) or transparent Boba Fett masks (plastic half-screens). Such masks do not really block everything that comes out of the players nose or mouth, except perhaps chewing gum or hot dog fragments. For a face mask to truly protect others from you, it must closely cover your nose and mouth.
Again played the game in an indoor setting. Ice hockey is typically not played in a wind tunnel, so the air circulation was not the same as it would have been outdoors. So to sum up: indoor environment, people getting close to each other, heavy breathing, no masks. Not exactly the best option to avoid Covid-19 coronavirus.
It usually takes about four to five days after the first exposure to SARS-CoV-2 before symptoms begin to appear, although the incubation period may vary from two to 14 days. Sure enough, within five days of the game, 14 players (eight from one team and five from the other) and a rink employee began experiencing Covid-19-y symptoms. Thirteen of these people ended up testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. Only those who developed symptoms were tested. So more people could have been infected.
This has not been the only time that Covid-19 coronavirus has taken to the field. For example, Carly Baldwin wrote on September 14 for Patch about a cluster of 13 Covid-19 coronavirus infections among members of the youth hockey team who train at Middletown Sports Complex in Middletown, NJ. On October 6, Ariel Hart and Helena Oliviero reported for Atlanta Journal-Constitution on a junior hockey league game between a team from Georgia and a team from North Carolina that may have left over 40 people infected. On Friday, Julia Bialek reported to the Yale Daily News that Yale University had moved its Covid-19 alarm level up from green to yellow after the revelation that 18 members of the men’s hockey team had tested positive for SARS-CoV2 in the previous three days.
This does not mean that you have to get the puck out of here and completely abandon the game of ice hockey. The National Hockey League (NHL) was able to keep its Stanley Cup playoffs reasonably Covid-19 coronavirus free by placing their coaches and players in social bubbles and aggressively maintaining other virus prevention measures. Of course, unless you are part of a really serious ice hockey team, such social bubbling may not be a practical option for you.
Nevertheless, there are other possible adaptations. USA Hockey maintains a website about Covid-19 coronavirus and offers a tip sheet on the precautions you can take. You can treat the game like a cheap skate in a restaurant and have a “no check” policy. That would mean maintaining at least one Denzel distance from others at all times and having no body contact. You can also get the puck outdoors where there is more natural air ventilation. Avoid sharing equipment or touching the puck. Reducing the number of people on the ice at one time can also allow you to stay further apart at any one time. Continue to keep your distance while away from the ice. Doing each of these together in a layered combination further reduces your risk.
This CBC News segment described changes that may occur with different hockey leagues:
As the northern hemisphere goes deeper into fall and soon into winter, you may want to increase precautions. As I have previously written for Forbes, transmission of the virus can be increased with lower temperatures and lower relative humidity. This can be a particular problem for ice hockey, as lower temperatures can be the difference between an ice rink and a swimming pool. Again, that does not mean you should drop ice hockey altogether. You can still stick to some form of sport, whether it be exercises or safe adjustments of the game. Just do not puck around in a way that could expose you to the virus.