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‘Pare it down’: B.C.’s top doctor urges caution after COVID-19 exposures linked to sports

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B.C.’s top doctor is asking athletes and their supporters to exercise caution as there has been an increase in community exposures to COVID-19 connected to recreational sports such as soccer and hockey over the last few weeks.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said some sports facilities have had to close as a result of the exposures.

“What I’m really talking about is the concerns that we’ve seen where there’s been some situations where parents have been together on the sidelines or the teams get together afterward,” Henry said at a media briefing on Tuesday afternoon.

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Henry noted health officials have worked with sports facilities and organizations to ensure they have a COVID-19 safety plan in place that allows for a safe return to sport.

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Henry said guidelines prioritize players over spectators.

“I know that’s a challenge for some people who want to be there to support their children, in particular, who are playing on teams, but we also know that spending time socializing or cheering with other parents and fans before, during, and following games increases risks of transmission and exposure for families,” she said.

“That’s why there are restrictions on the spectator in arenas and on sidelines of games.”

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In the Okanagan, the Kelowna Minor Hockey Association issued a note to parents that said only one parent can attend games for players in the under-7 and under-9  age levels. Parents of players in U11 and up can’t attend games at all.

Henry said British Columbians need to consider how activities like sports fit into the bigger picture.

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“The more time we spend with others in one area means we have to be careful about spending less time in another area,” she said.

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“If you’re in a busy workplace, have children in school, then it is all the more important to limit your time with others, whether it’s social events or recreational sports and other areas.”

Henry said now is the time for athletes to limit their risk to exposure.

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“If you are playing in a sports league, pick one league, don’t pick multiple leagues,” she said.

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“If your children are involved in activities after school, pare it down so that they’re not exposed to large numbers of different groups of people at different days.”

B.C. transitioned to Phase 3 of its Return to Sport guidelines in August. The full Return to Sport guidelines can be found here.

Henry announced 549 new COVID-19 cases of a four-day span as well as five new deaths.