Is Local Rec-League Hockey Safe to Play Right Now?

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Posted December 8, 2020

Kids skate at Fort Dupont back in February, before the coronavirus shutdowns. (Caps Outsider)

With (local) hockey season in full swing, players, from the youth leagues to the beer leagues, are eagerly trying to play their favorite sport. They’re willing to put on their equipment in the parking lots, have their temperature taken before they enter the rink, and rush out right after the buzzer, all while hoping not to get the airborne virus. Will they?

A couple of articles published recently in the Washington Post paint a grim picture.  The Riverside Rams, a high school club from Loudoun County, had three cases of the virus among players, and had to cancel games in their already-shortened season. And that’s nothing compared to what happened back in June at a rec league game in Tampa, Florida.

Another article published by The Post’s health section brought to light other incidents throughout the hockey-playing country, and reasons why hockey is harder hit with the virus than other sports.

Some of the local players I’ve been in touch with decided against playing as a result of these articles, amongst other reasons, just as more leagues are being given permission to start back up by local governments.

Needless to say, the leagues are not happy about these articles because, they claim, the Post didn’t consider the safeguards that they have put into place, or why some areas are hit harder than others.

One local rink owner told me that many of the outbreaks in the referenced articles didn’t consider locker room usage. That’s an extra 15-20 minutes, before and after games, players spend sitting extremely close together, flinging on and off equipment, entering and exiting showers, drinking beer together, and so forth. Newer airflow systems at rinks might also make a difference.

So, if hockey is so unsafe, as these articles showed with plenty of examples, why are leagues even happening right now?

Perhaps, it’s not as bad as it seems. Articles get written when something happens, not when something doesn’t happen. But that’s true about most subjects. What ought to be considered now is the response to these articles by local rinks. For that, we’ll publish a letter written by the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association to the Washington Post.

Dear Washington Post:

I write to express the DMV hockey community’s display at the way your Dec. 4, 2020 article “Youth sports have been hit with few coronavirus outbreaks so far. Why is ice hockey so different?” presented out sport. As president of the national governing body local affiliate, this letter provides the facts about hockey in our region which the article omits, and did not attempt to gather.

Simply put, our risk mitigation strategy around hockey in the DMV has been very effective. There is no scientific evidence supporting the article’s thesis that hockey is riskier than other sports and activities, and out region’s experience thus far has been to the contrary.

The article cites outbreaks in other states primarily from the summer, and does not explain the circumstances in which those outbreaks occurred, or under which hockey is played in the DMV or in other parts of the country.

Had the Post engaged with the local hockey community, it would have learned that Maryland adopted strict COVID-19 safety recommendations for hockey early in the season, which have been incorporated into Montgomery and Prince George’s County law, and where not legally required in Maryland and in Virginia, those standards have been voluntarily adopted by virtually by all major facilities. They would have learned that the opinions on which the article relies are based on speculation only, as the article inself conspicuously admits: as just one example, because motor vehicles (the “Zamboni”) are operated in most rinks, far from suffering from “little ventilation”, rinks must have powerful ventilation and air filtration systems capable of exchanging the entire ait column, and regularing huity, above an ice surface many times per day. Most importantly, the Post would have learned that none of the COVID19 issues the article raises in other states have occurred here in this region, not in neighboring states where similarly strict protocols are in place.

This is not a coincidence. The DMV’s ban on using locker rooms, strict building ingress and egress procedures, social distancing requirements on player benches, masks for everyone who enters the facility, including players when not on the ice, and numerous other safety measure were all or mostly absent in connection with the outbreaks the article cites. In shorts, the Post’s article portrayed out sport, on which tens of thousands of people in the DMV rely on for their exercise, camaraderie – critical when public schools are not in session – and livelihoods, in a way that is incomplete and as a result grossly inaccurate.

We respectfully request that the Post publish this letter to the editor as quickly as possible in order to set the record straight.

Best regards,

Linda Jondo

President

Potomac Valley Hockey Association (Maryland, D.C. and Virginia USA Hockey Affiliate

People will have to make up their own minds over whether hockey is safe to play right now, particularly in the DMV area, but it’s critical that everyone has all of the information to make an informed decision.