With the upcoming season starting, many coaches, players, parents, and fans are debating on coming back to hockey this fall to see their kids, grandkids, or even visiting their old stomping grounds watching and playing hockey. Covid-19 has affected a lot of what we do currently in society. Whether or not you believe in Covid-19 is up for you to decide. But most importantly leaders do have to make decisions on how/where we start playing and I have concerns that USA Hockey’s plan is nothing more that hoping the local arenas and cities know best.
USA Hockey is requiring on people register for the upcoming season despite the health and safety concerns some people do have. But then putting the responsibility of the state of the game on the local hockey associations and cities instead. While many of these “recommendations” are fairly in line with what common Covid-19 protocol is (disinfecting, separate entrance / exit, social distancing) many of these are just recommendations in good faith that organizations will do them. Some states still have variations of lockdown orders while others barely have any protection measures at all. This is a concern because if teams from other cities or states play each other with different ways of handling Covid-19, we could easily see a spike in cases rise.
Fig. 1 - Data Count of the last 7 days from approx. Oct. 30th - Nov. 5th
USA Hockey goes on to state that, in the same paragraph, you must wear a face mask if the state requires it for on ice activity and that there are potential disadvantages of wearing on while doing high intensity exercise. If it’s not safe to wear a mask a play then advise them to not play or tell them to play without and risk the infection. We know masks do work to slow down the spread of transmission of covid-19 if you carry it. Instead of seriously weighing in on if it is safe to play hockey or not they passed the responsibility on to the hockey associations instead. In their own words they say players shouldn’t wear a mask while playing. Language that clearly contradicts itself in content published by USA Hockey.
Going into the safety questions portion of USA Hockey’s website doesn’t help either. They stress that physical activity is more important than the risk of transmission for a virus we still do not know enough about. When asked about protocol, they just defer to the CDC recommendations. When asked about locker room, they deferred again to the local arena’s and cities. If you are in another country with no form of guidelines, you defer to that countries guidelines even if you are working under USA Hockey. In other words, they have no policy to speak of. Instead of taking any kind of stand they took the middle of the road stand and just end up making both sides annoyed in the process.
Fig. 2 - Bauer Hockey's new Splash Guard
The line that keeps getting uses by USA Hockey is “Participation is a personal choice.” People are asking questions if they should even play and they keep getting this answer. Recommend something, anything. But throwing the hands up in the air and shrugging and saying it’s a personal choice is helping no one. Some of the very leagues USA Hockey is sanctioned under (Particularly USHL and other Junior Leagues) are pushing their start dates to November. You can’t tell me that these leagues at the very least didn’t call you up and ask questions regarding the safety and health concerns of their players and what precautions they should do.
Hockey has now seen it's fair share of outbreaks and issues. In June 2020, a recreational hockey game in Tampa Bay, Florida, metropolitan area, where 13 of the 21 players showed symptoms and positive test for Covid-19. In Maine, approx. 400 plus players, coaches, and staff had to quarantine as one of the referees had tested positive shortly after refereeing 8 youth games that weekend. In Iowa, Black Hawk county and the city of Waterloo shut down the first games of the USHL Waterloo Blackhawks as the county has a 20.3% positivity rate.
Fig. 3 - Waterloo Black Hawks Home Opener that was labeled as a no contest by the USHL until games are played.
USA Hockey is taking the approach of hoping that this hockey season doesn’t implode on itself with everyone doing their own thing in regard to safety due to Covid-19. USA Hockey has had no problem in the past enforcing safety measures even against popular opinions, so I find it difficult to see why now of all situations this is the case. I do hope that things go smoothly this year, I hope my concerns for my safety as well as other is for nothing. This is not a case about Covid-19. This is a case that USA Hockey is struggling to decide where to go and what to do. If things go off the rail this hockey season, USA Hockey will need to pick up the pieces of their own failure. Hopefully I am wrong.