Face masks have been as prevalent as pucks across the NHL this season. But the documents show that Canadian public health officials wanted the association to take more measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
La ligue a introduit un certain nombre de protocoles dans le but de reprendre ses activités, y compris les tests quotidiens des joueurs et du personnel, des règles concernant la distanciation physique et les masques, et la limitation pouré des contacts a que los coires rink.
However, documents obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show that health officials “strongly” recommended that the association take additional measures before giving the green light.
After receiving a draft of NHL return-to-play protocols, health officials from Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Public Health Canada sent a joint letter to Gary Bettman on December 23, 2020 urging either to add a close contact test between players and staff to their protocols or to use the “bubble model.” Adopted by the league in Toronto and Edmonton to complete the 2019-20 season.
“If a repeat of the bubble model is not feasible for the NHL, we recommend delaying the start of the season by a few weeks to allow the infection rate to decline and our health systems to recover,” the letter reads.
Health officials – including Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Drs Dina Henshaw, chief medical officer of British Columbia Health, Dr.s Bonnie Henry, Manitoba’s chief medical officer for health, Dr.s Brent Rosen, chief medical officer of Health Ontario, and Quebec Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda, Dr.s Howard Ngo, deputy chief public health officer for Public Health Canada, also called for the NHL’s help to engage Canadians in preventing transmission of COVID-19.
“The NHL is well positioned to play an important role in promoting the health and safety measures necessary to limit the spread of COVID in our counties. We would be very grateful for any leadership the NHL can provide in the early months of 2021 at a time when our collective efforts to contain the virus will be critical to maintaining our health systems all over the country.
Buttman responded on December 24, saying that the association had already included comments from various Canadian public health agencies in its protocols.
“We do not believe that our return to the Game Plan poses a significant risk to the health and safety of Canadians,” his letter said.
Noting that players, staff and coaches will be tested daily, Buttman added that the league “will do everything in its power” to provide families and other close contacts with access to on-demand testing. He added that NHL protocols have been updated to include a 14-day close contact test of a player if a player tests positive for the virus.
The letter also explained that the NHL has changed its schedule to limit the number of times a team can travel in or out of the county, and added that adding a “reserve team” would limit cross-border travel.
“We don’t think a ‘bubble model’ of a start of the season or a delay of several weeks before the start of the season is achievable; nor do we think it is necessary,” Bateman said. We are confident in our ability to stage a successful return to play without the use of such measures by ensuring that appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place and that our staff adhere strictly to such mitigation measures. ”
The commissioner added that the association “enthusiastically welcomes” health officials’ request to encourage Canadians to take action to mitigate transmission of COVID-19.
“The league, our clubs and our players will commit to taking a strong and visible role in promoting health and safety measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in your counties,” he said.
Health officials sent Bettman another joint letter on December 25 saying they support the return of the NHL to Canada. The league began its intense 56-game season on January 13.
In general, the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols have worked well, said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.
“I think they have a smart plan,” he analyzed. It was not foolproof and they responded somewhat responsibly. ”
Keeping the infection rate low will be a challenge for many players and staff involved, Furness said, especially while they are traveling and when they are at home, often living with people who are not subject to the same rules.
“It’s a perfect storm,” he said. It only takes a moment of inattention and then flourishes. ”
The NHL released numbers on June 28 showing that it had performed more than 350,000 tests for COVID-19 during the season, with 119 players receiving “confirmed positives”.
d saids Brian Conway, chief of the Vancouver Center for Infectious Disease Prevention.
He added that everyone has bypassed COVID-19 protocols during the pandemic, and people have a false sense of security when they are not suffering from consequences like illness.
“The (NHL) rules seemed to fit right in, and they seemed to be properly enforced. But you have to remember we’re dealing with humans,” Conway said.
The virus forced 12 teams out of action during the season, and 55 matches were postponed.
The Vancouver Canucks suffered their worst outbreak in the league in late March when a violent variable hit the team.
Twenty-one players and four coaches have tested positive for the virus, and many have shown symptoms such as extreme fatigue, fever, chills and shortness of breath. Relatives also fell ill, including women and children.
The Canucks have postponed several matches and have not played in more than three weeks.
The Montreal Canadiens have also postponed four matches until the end of March after two players were added to their COVID-19 roster.
Interim coach Dominique Ducharme also had to self-isolate after he tested positive for the virus on June 19. He watched his team complete the semi-final series against the Vegas Golden Knights from home and missed the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.