Hockey on Hold: What to Know About the Massachusetts Shutdown

The Department of Health's two-week pause takes effect Friday

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Massachusetts on Thursday ordered the shutdown of every indoor ice skating facility in the state for two weeks in response to several COVID-19 clusters linked to ice hockey games and practices.

For a lot of families across the commonwealth, hockey is life. Now, life is on hold for at least a couple of weeks following the new order from the state Department of Public Health that went into effect Friday at 5 p.m. and lasts until 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 7. College and professional programs are exempt from the order, the DPH said.

The hope is that shutting down ice rinks across Massachusetts for two weeks will stop the spike in COVID-19 cases in the hockey community.

Massachusetts Hockey released a statement reacting to the order, saying, in part, "There have been situations and areas where the Commonwealth feels compliance with the guidance has not been followed. Unfortunately, unless we are able to correct these issues, we would anticipate any further shutdown could be significantly longer than the current two weeks.”

Harvard Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina says COVID fatigue combined with cooler weather and the reopening economy are driving infections.

“And it's creating this perfect storm in my opinion," he said. "A perfect storm that will cause cases to continue to climb to... I really think we are just seeing the beginning."

It's a grim forecast, especially for people like the Quirk family, who is in quarantine after an outbreak on son Ryan’s hockey team, the Boch Blazers.

“I think it was seven players tested positive, the coach and I think potentially a couple of the parents,” Kathryn Quirk said of the team's outbreak. "Of course practice was cancelled immediately right away and he advised everybody to get tested.”

Ryan and his dad, Tom, tested positive. They’re better now just as the two-week shutdown is beginning.

“It’s gonna be hard," Ryan said. "I mean as a hockey player I think I can speak for many other hockey players, my teammates and such, that we all want to be on the ice and playing hockey is a big part of our lives. I know it’s a big part of mine.”

For now, recreational and youth hockey participants will have to wait for two weeks to see if infections go down so they can drop the puck again.

Officials say the new public health order is in response to multiple COVID-19 clusters occurring at rinks throughout Massachusetts following games, practices and tournaments. Nearly 110 cases of the virus have been directly connected to hockey, the DPH said in a press release.

Here's everything we know about the hockey shutdown in Massachusetts:

How many COVID cases are connected to hockey?

There have been at least 30 clusters of COVID-19 associated with organized ice hockey activities involving residents from more than 60 cities and towns in the state, health officials said.

Each includes two or more confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, for a total of 108 confirmed cases.

Why put hockey on hold?

State health officials said the pause will allow for the development of stronger COVID-19 protocols to further protect players, families, coaches, arena staff and other participants, as well as communities surrounding hockey rinks.

Current protocols already include limits on the number of people allowed in an arena and social distancing.

Is this affecting other New England states?

Neighboring states including New Hampshire have enacted similar temporary restrictions regarding indoor ice hockey.

Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday that testing could be required before youth hockey is allowed to resume in the Granite State. It was last week that he announced he was pausing indoor hockey and skating activities for two weeks after over 150 cases were directly connected to hockey.

"We had to do something," he said. "It was having a domino effect in our schools. You don't want to let it go unchecked and allow that to really go out of control, with the repercussions of not just shutting down a hockey season but shutting down an entire school."

Hockey and all other ice sports are on hold in New Hampshire after multiple COVID-19 outbreaks.
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