The golf clubs, tennis rackets and bicycles are packed away. The hockey skates, basketball shoes and curling brooms are pulled out.
Colder weather is pushing Canadian recreation indoors – just as COVID-19 case numbers rise – making it more difficult for winter activities to resume safely.
Minor hockey was largely shuttered in March when the initial reports of COVID-19 made public gatherings unsafe. When safety protocols relaxed with declining case rates through the summer, most youth hockey associations geared up for a more normal season through the fall and winter.
But with activity set to resume, all levels of participants are forced to weigh a combination of safety factors: Guidelines from amateur hockey administrators nationally, provincially and municipally; Provincial and municipal governments and health units; Complex “stage” recovery rules that can make gatherings acceptable or unacceptable depending on which side of a boundary line you live.
Toronto’s GTHL recently pushed back its anticipated October 7 start date, and now hopes to return Jan. 4 2021. In an open letter to participants, league officials said “doctors and scientists have told us that we have to stay off the ice for the time being, so we can keep everybody safe.”
Saskatchewan Hockey Association announced plans to resume play, beginning Oct. 17 after the province accepted its safety plan.
Organizations across the country continue to revise their programs, trying to safely return to the ice while simultaneously referring to decisions from health officials to come as COVID-19 rates rise. Many leagues had posted guidelines for drills and practices without games, league restrictions of groups of 50, less dense versions of games such as 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 games, as well as complex rules around sharing locker rooms, water bottles and who is liable if a spectator catches COVID-19 after attending a game.
On the surface, skiing would appear to be a safer activity. It’s outdoors, and if you’re not socially distant on a ski hill, you’re probably about to collide with someone. Ski hill operators’ public web sites all emphasize how much they are looking forward to safely opening. Yet operators still have safety risks to address where people gather. Mandatory masks, sanitizers and passenger restrictions will make lifts and gondolas more safe. Equipment rentals done with a “curbside pickup” model and elimination of cafeteria-style food choices are also frequently cited safety measures. Ski resorts are also promoting reduced capacity in overnight hotel facilities and having day passes purchased online only, not at the resort.
Curling has implemented a rule change to make its games more safe. Off-the-ice clubs are implementing new restrictions on lounges and change rooms. The on-ice rule changes are required because of the common practice of having two players move down the ice side-by-side while sweeping a rock. Curling Canada has implemented a limit of only one sweeper per rock as a safety measure. It has also outlined safer places for participants to stand on the rink when they are not directly involved in the play.