The league introduced a number of protocols in an effort to get back on the ice, including daily player and staff testing, rules regarding physical distancing and masks, and limiting the contact that teammates might have far away. of the ice rink.
Yet documents released to the Canadian Press under the Freedom of Information Act show health officials ‘strongly’ recommended that the league take additional measures before giving the green light for his return. .
After receiving a draft of the NHL return-to-play protocols, health officials from Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and the Public Health Agency of Canada sent a joint letter to Commissioner Gary Bettman on December 23, 2020, urging the league to either add regular testing for close player and staff contact to its protocols or use a similar ‘bubble model’ what the league created in Toronto and Edmonton to end the 2019-20 season.
“If an iteration of the bubble model is not feasible for the NHL, we would recommend that the start of the season be delayed by a few weeks to allow disease rates to drop and our health systems to recover,” reads -on in the letter.
Health officials including the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the Provincial Medical Officer of Health for British Columbia, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Province of Manitoba, the Dr. Brent Roussin, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, Dr. David Williams, the Quebec National Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda and Dr. Howard Njoo, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer at the Agence de la Public Health of Canada – have also called on the NHL for help to engage Canadians in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.
“The NHL is well positioned to play an important role in promoting health and safety measures essential to reduce the spread of COVID in our provinces. We would be very grateful for any visible leadership the NHL could provide in the early months of 2021 at a time when our collective efforts to contain the virus will be critical to sustaining our health systems across the country, ”the letter said.
Bettman responded on Dec. 24, saying the league had already incorporated comments from various Canadian public health agencies into its protocols.
“We do not believe our return to play plan poses a significant risk to the health and safety of ordinary Canadians,” his letter said.
Bettman noted that players, staff and coaches would be tested daily and said the league “will do its best” to provide families and other close contacts with access to testing upon request. He added that NHL protocols had been updated to include testing for a player’s close contact for 14 days if the player tested positive for the virus.
The letter also said the NHL had changed its schedule to limit how often a team traveled within or outside the provinces, and said the addition of a “taxi team” would limit cross-border travel. .
“We don’t think that a ‘bubble model’ for the start of the season, or a delay of several weeks before the start of the game, is feasible; neither do we think they are necessary, ”said Bettman.
“We believe in our ability to organize a successful return to play without using such measures by ensuring that appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place and that our staff strictly adhere to these mitigation measures. “
The commissioner added that the league “enthusiastically welcomes” the demand by health officials to encourage Canadians to take action to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19.
“The league, our clubs and our players will be committed to taking a strong and visible role in promoting health and safety measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in your provinces,” he said.
Health officials sent another joint letter to Bettman on Dec. 25 saying they supported the return of the NHL to Canada. The league began its condensed 56-game season on January 13.
The NHL released figures on June 28 showing it had administered more than 350,000 COVID-19 tests during the season, with 119 players having received “confirmed positives.”
The virus has forced 12 teams to close during the season, postponing 55 games.
The Vancouver Canucks suffered the league’s worst outbreak in late March when an aggressive variant swept through the locker room.
Twenty-one players and four members of the coaching staff tested positive for the virus, and many exhibited symptoms such as extreme fatigue, fever, chills and shortness of breath. Relatives have also fallen ill, including women and children.
Vancouver has postponed several games and has not played for more than three weeks.
The team said an investigation and contact tracing revealed that the outbreak was started by a single unnamed individual who caught the infection in a “community setting” which was later identified as a “place. public exhibition ”.
The Montreal Canadiens also postponed four games to the end of March after adding two players to the COVID-19 roster.
Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme also had to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus on June 19. He watched his team complete their semifinal streak against the Vegas Golden Knights from home and missed the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampas. Lightning from the bay.