With talk of a second wave imminent and social distancing regulations back at the forefront, COVID seems to have put a damper on most sports for the 2020 season.
Many professional leagues have already announced modifications to their upcoming plans for the 2020 season, while colleges across the country (and the world) have begun outright canceling or drastically shortening seasons a la major league baseball.
The governing bodies, however, of many youth sports are not so in sync. And while practices and games for many have been canceled or postponed, some have continued to carry on as the country still struggles to wrestle with how to safely restart contact sports.
As parents and coaches, safety of the children should, needless to say, be of utmost importance. No third period buzzer beating goal or shutout game from a rookie goalie is ever going to come before ensuring that right wing or netminder and their families are safe.
So the first question to tackle, naturally becomes obvious: is playing hockey safe right now?
According to the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Michael Stuart in an interview with USA Hockey the answer is a succinct “Yes, if done correctly,”
So what defines safe? As it turns out, there are quite a few steps you can take to ensure safety, but as with most everything in life (and pandemics) nothing is completely safe (except, perhaps, total isolation).
First and foremost, sanitize.
“Sanitize your hands as soon as you leave the ice, wipe down surfaces with disinfectants and clean your equipment, including stick, gloves and helmet,” said Stuart.
Likewise, while distancing is difficult during a contact sport like hockey, wearing face masks or shields can help prevent spread of the disease.
“There may be some advantage in wearing a full shield that can block some droplets if people sneeze or cough,” Stuart continued, offering a quick but important follow up. “However, no currently available facial protection can prevent inhalation of aerosolized droplets.”
Regardless of precautions taken, however, it should be made clear that there are certainly risks – risks that many will consider to be too great to risk. In theory, the colder atmosphere of an ice hockey rink can actually increase the likelihood of the virus spreading, making practicing on-ice risky at times.
While nothing will be entirely safe until a vaccine is developed, I’d encourage, lastly, communication. Speak with your coaches, the parents of your players, and health professionals to get a sense of when – and if – resuming practice in 2020 is feasible and safe.