Youth Hockey Has a COVID-19 Problem

Why is this sport especially vulnerable to the pandemic?

Hockey rink
Is COVID-19 putting young hockey players at risk?
Chris Liverani/Unsplash

As with almost every part of life these days, youth sports have been adversely affected by the pandemic. But with comprehensive guidelines from the CDC, there have been numerous steps taken to reduce transmission among young athletes and keep everyone involved safer. A study released this fall noted that youth soccer players were not contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than their peers, for instance.

There’s one big exception to that, and it’s alarming players, coaches and public health professionals alike. A new article by Ariana Eunjung Cha and
Karin Brulliard at The Washington Post explores how youth hockey has become an unlikely hazard for many — and ventures into the science of why the coronavirus is spreading in the hockey world but not in comparable situations around, say, football or basketball.

The incidents cited in the article are alarming, beginning with the death of a youth hockey coach in August and including 100 cases among youth hockey players in Massachusetts. It’s led a number of states where hockey is prevalent, including Minnesota and much of the Northeast, to put a temporary stop to youth hockey.

Scientists are researching why these cases have cropped up, even in instances where the CDC’s guidelines were followed. Cha and Bruillard write that some experts attribute the pandemic’s spread to the way ice hockey rinks are designed to operate, citing the way a rink “restricts airflow, temperature and humidity.”

It may also be significant that hockey is largely played indoors, compared to other popular youth sports. It’s worth noting here that a number of NHL teams are reportedly exploring playing some of their games outdoors this season. It’s especially troubling when something inherent to a sport begins to work against it; for youth hockey players and coaches during this pandemic, the challenges are very worrying.

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