Ontario man dies after fully vaccinated hockey league affected by COVID-19 outbreak

Click to play video: 'Vaccinated 75-year-old Ontario hockey player dies after contracting COVID-19'
Vaccinated 75-year-old Ontario hockey player dies after contracting COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Garry Weston couldn’t wait to get back on the ice with his recreational hockey friends. When the time came, he brought his proof of vaccination and enthusiasm. As Sean O’Shea reports, even though Weston died after suffering a stroke following an outbreak at the rink, they say they have full confidence in the vaccines – Oct 29, 2021

A man who was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has died after the virus ripped through an Ontario men’s hockey league, infecting a total of 15 people, all of whom were double-vaccinated.

The three-on-three over 50 league that plays out of Newmarket, Ont., on Mondays and Thursdays started its first game of the season on Sept. 27, and leading up to that day, Garry Weston, 75, and his teammates were ecstatic.

Weston and his friends had played hockey together for 50 years, and they were itching to get back on the ice, but on Oct. 4, some players informed the team that they were feeling ill and planned to get COVID tests.

Weston and 14 others tested positive, and after experiencing symptoms, the 75-year-old went to the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie. He stayed there for a little over a week before his condition declined and he passed away on Oct. 21.

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“He was a true patriarch to our family,” Amber-Lea Weston, Weston’s daughter, told Global News.

“We’re a very close-knit family, very close-knit. We’re all best friends … My mom and dad were married for almost 55 years, and we miss him a great deal.”

Brian Dunn, 74, from Thornhill, Ont., was good friends with Weston. He described him as personable, friendly, outgoing and as someone who brought people together.

“He was loved by all,” said Dunn, who also tested positive for COVID-19 and started feeling sick with symptoms around Oct. 3.

“Why was this so severe for Garry when it wasn’t for the other 14? The other 14 have got through this — there’s no lingering effects, but Garry was the one that it just hit him badly. He ended up developing pneumonia and ended up with a stroke and on life support.”

After several players first tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Wendell Harrison and his co-organizer temporarily shut the Newmarket hockey league down.

“From the time that we started playing until the time that people actually decided to go and get tested, we already played two or three games,” said league co-organizer Harrison, 69, from Sutton, Ont.

“We shut it down for two weeks, and then we resumed playing a week ago Monday.”

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Click to play video: 'Breaking down breakthrough cases: How COVID-19 impacts the fully vaccinated'
Breaking down breakthrough cases: How COVID-19 impacts the fully vaccinated

Dunn said many people are wondering how 15 fully vaccinated people came down with COVID-19 over two separate nights in one facility. He said he’s curious as to whether they caught it from kids under 12 who played at the arena before his team or if someone was asymptomatic and brought it into the rink.

“Are there touch points at the arena that we all hit and got it that way? Did we get it out of droplets on the ice? Did we get it on the benches? We don’t know,” Dunn added.

Andrew Shorkey, the general manager of National Training Rinks (NTR) Newmarket, where the league plays, said he was first notified of the COVID-19 outbreak by the league on Oct. 7 and again by York Region Public Health on Oct. 8.

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“With respect to the (league), when they told us about the positive cases, they were told not to come in until everything was cleared up,” Shorkey said, adding the arena follows all public health advisories and safety recommendations.

He told Global News his facility uses products included on public health’s list to help prevent COVID and that rooms are cleaned between each use. He also said masks are mandatory at all times, except when on the ice, furnaces are running 24-7 with regularly replaced filters and that staff are checking people’s vaccination status at the door.

“We follow all the public health stuff to a T,” Shorkey said. “We don’t interpret, we don’t guess. If we have a question, we call.”

On Oct. 8, York Region Public Health received notice of confirmed COVID cases that were associated with the men’s hockey league at NTR in Newmarket, said Dr. Richard Gould, the region’s acting medical officer of health.

“Through our investigation, it was identified there was a crossover of cases between two leagues (an over 50 league and an over 40 league),” Gould said in an email.

“All cases played hockey on Sept. 27, Sept. 30 and/or Oct. 4, with the majority of cases playing on the first two dates. All cases were determined to be symptomatic with symptom onset ranging from Oct. 1, 2021 to Oct. 9, 2021.”

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Gould also confirmed that all high-risk outbreak contacts were identified and contacted by public health and that NTR followed all COVID-19 protocols.

Since the outbreak, Dunn said he and all his other teammates are fully recovered from COVID-19.

He said he plans to go back to play hockey with the rest of the guys, though he noted there are about five or six people who are shaken from the experience and don’t feel comfortable returning to the ice.

“It’s easier to catch this COVID than what we first imagined, even though everybody’s double-vaxxed,” Harrison told Global News.

“It hit so many people so fast … I think it’s important to get it out there that this happened because other hockey leagues will be starting up, and they need to know that this can happen.”

Click to play video: 'Perspective on COVID-19 ‘breakthrough cases’'
Perspective on COVID-19 ‘breakthrough cases’

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