Coronavirus Canada Updates: At least 22 COVID-19 outbreaks linked to Sask. hockey teams

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Nearly two dozen COVID-19 outbreaks were declared for Saskatchewan curling clubs and hockey teams or leagues in less than four weeks — including 10 outbreaks after the sports suspension was in effect.

Five curling clubs and at least 17 hockey teams or leagues have had COVID-19 outbreaks since Nov. 13, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA’s) outbreak list.

“Don’t play hockey, is the simple answer,” said Ryan Demmer, University of Minnesota associate professor of epidemiology and community health, when asked how to avoid spread in those environments.

“The fact of the matter is this virus spreads by people breathing on each other.”

The Saskatchewan government announced on Nov. 25 that sports would be suspended starting that Friday.

As of 12:01 a.m. CST on Nov. 27, all team sports and group activities were suspended. But athletes and dancers 18 years old or younger can keep practising in groups up to eight, assuming masks are worn and at least three metres of distance is maintained at all times.

The suspension is in effect until at least Dec. 18, yet a combined 10 hockey teams or leagues and curling clubs have had COVID-19 outbreaks since the team sports suspension was in effect. The most recent was declared on Dec. 5 for the Adult Safe Hockey League in Saskatoon.

Some outbreaks, such as those declared on Nov. 22 for the Fort Knox hockey team of the Prairie Junior Hockey League and Balcarres Broncos senior hockey team, were linked to events outside the hockey environment.

But the typical indoor hockey rink creates an environment that allows air to fester and germs to spread, said Demmer.

Cold air drops toward the ice, but the boards trap the air on the ice surface. Players are then moving quickly, breathing heavily and within close proximity of each other in air that isn’t being circulated, he said.

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