Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, told reporters Wednesday morning that Ottawa Public Health has identified five outbreaks of the coronavirus amid organized sports teams.
There have so far been 28 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to these outbreaks, but Etches said there are “hundreds and hundreds” of high-risk contacts traced to individuals who have tested positive.
The local public health unit is currently investigating a total of 14 teams for possible outbreaks.
Etches said transmission is occurring on teams of both adults and children, and is happening both on and off the field. She said infections have been linked to carpooling to and from practice, sharing locker rooms and socializing or sharing meals after play.
All five outbreaks currently identified by OPH were linked to indoor settings, Etches said.
Hockey is “standing out” as having an especially higher number of people testing positive for the virus, she said, though she also mentioned football as another source of infection.
Currently in Ontario, sports teams are not allowed to play games or scrimmages. They’re only permitted to practice, though Etches noted the risk of transmission still exists in any physical activity where distancing isn’t respected.
“COVID doesn’t distinguish between a game or a practice,” she said.
Etches didn’t say she wanted to put further restrictions on organized sports, but instead said she wanted to get the message out about how to play safely and reduce the risk of transmission.
The winter months will be difficult on Ottawa residents’ mental health, she said, and physical activity can be an important morale booster during this time.
Etches encouraged athletes to wear masks when possible, wash hands before and after exercising, minimize close social contact before and after practice, and to structure activities in a way that allows for physical distancing.
Carpooling and other close-contact activities should be discouraged, she said, and individuals should limit themselves to one team in order to minimize possible spread.
OPH will start tracking outbreaks on sports teams on its COVID-19 dashboard as of Wednesday.