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COVID spread via hockey league could be costly: Norfolk CAO

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While recreational hockey players wonder why Norfolk has been reluctant to organize adult leagues this summer, county staff is worried about what happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19.

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Were that to happen, containing a potential outbreak could require the services of dozens of health unit employees while costing the municipal treasury thousands of dollars it doesn’t have.

This explains, in part, why Norfolk County has been slow to pull together recreational programs while it’s full steam ahead in neighbouring municipalities.

“We have to ask ourselves what happens if there is an outbreak that went through an adult league,” CAO Jason Burgess said in a report to Norfolk council and senior staff.

“With kids going back to school, there is an assumed increased risk in (this) happening. If little Johnny or Sally gets sick and gives it to dad and dad goes to play pick-up hockey and exposed 30 more moms and dads and 60 more kids, is this fair? I’m not sure.

“Council has shown to take a more conservative approach to public safety such as the mask bylaw. Staff have interpreted this decision as council’s direction to manage public health risks in a conservative manner.”

Norfolk is moving forward with figure skating and limited minor hockey programs because provincial and national sanctioning bodies have developed detailed protocols to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. In his report, Burgess notes that adult hockey leagues have not done the same.

A potential solution emerged during council’s discussion of the issue on Sept. 8.

Bill Cridland, Norfolk’s general manager of community and emergency services, noted that the installation of ice at Talbot Gardens in Simcoe will lag behind arenas in Port Dover, Waterford and Delhi because the player and spectator flow in Simcoe is unique to the facility. There are “pinch points” at Talbot Gardens other arenas don’t have. These are problematic from the standpoint of social distancing and viral transmission.

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“With adult leagues, I have a lot of questions about how we get them back to play as quickly as possible, and safely,” Cridland said.

A little-discussed aspect of this issue, Burgess said, involves public sector unions and the safety concerns they are raising across Ontario now that the province is re-opening the economy. Burgess worries about push-back on this front in Norfolk.

As well – due to additional sanitation protocols adopted when the global pandemic was declared in March – staffing at Norfolk arenas has been bumped up to three from two. If Norfolk wishes to open all five arenas this fall, Burgess said new hiring will be required.

Charlotteville Coun. Chris Van Paassen suggested Norfolk dedicate Talbot Gardens to adult hockey for the fall based on adults’ capacity to understand and follow complicated rules.

“Maybe we can reserve Talbot Gardens for adult hockey and keep the other arenas for minor hockey,” Van Paassen said. “Adults can be counted on to follow the rules.”

Cridland liked the idea, saying that might simplify his department’s management of COVID-19 risk. Cridland added he fully expects there to be recreational hockey in Norfolk this fall, beginning at its regular time in October.

In the meantime, Cridland said his department is finalizing arrangements with minor hockey associations, figure skaters, and winding down another season of outdoor activities at the county’s parks, ball diamonds and soccer pitches. He also mentioned that the county plans to open the ice at the Langton Arena at its usual time in early October.

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