COVID-19 continues to sweep through the Calgary Flames organization.
Wednesday morning, the team announced on Twitter that seven more players, three coaches and seven support staff recently tested positive, bringing the total to 27.
Rasmus Andersson, Byron Froese, Johnny Gaudreau, Erik Gudbranson, Trevor Lewis, Jacob Markstrom and Tyler Pitlick were the players who tested positive.
That brings the number of players who have tested positive in recent days to 16. The Flames carry 25 on their roster.
Coaches Ryan Huska, Kirk Muller and Darryl Sutter were also named as having entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
On Monday and Tuesday, the team announced Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Brad Richardson, Adam Ruzicka, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, Milan Lucic, Sean Monahan, Noah Hanifin and a trainer had all entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
As of Tuesday, Alberta Health Services had not declared it an outbreak.
Flames GM Brad Treliving addressed the media on the emerging outbreak within the club on Tuesday, saying the top priority is the health and safety of all of its players, staff and family.
Treliving said team members tested positive before the team left for a short road trip to Chicago and Nashville. He noted the team had been following all league and public health guidelines and are regularly tested.
“(COVID-19 is) out there. You do your very best to be safe and smart and do the right protocols,” he said.
Treliving said that it was too early to say which COVID-19 variant was circulating in the team, but noted that some players had tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Dr. Noel Gibney, professor emeritus with the University of Alberta’s department of critical care medicine, said he was surprised that the apparent outbreak within the Flames team has infected so many players and staff.
“We’ve had a number of outbreaks in many different sports, including hockey, but this one seems to have involved more players and officials than would normally be the case,” Gibney told Global News Wednesday.
He did not have any information on whether any of the Flames cases were of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant. Gibney did say it’s important the NHL start making plans given the variant’s detection in a majority of U.S. states and Canadian provinces.
On Wednesday afternoon, the NHL announced it was postponing a fourth previously-scheduled game: Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“The decision was made following consultation by the NHL’s, the NHLPA’s and the club’s medical groups,” a statement from the NHL read.
“The league is in the process of reviewing and revisiting the Flames’ regular season schedule, and will provide a further update next week.”
On Tuesday, Edmonton Oilers player Ryan McLeod and head coach Dave Tippett were placed in the league’s coronavirus protocol.
On Wednesday morning, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was asked whether the increase in COVID-19 cases in NHL teams in the province was reason for his government to reduce spectator capacity at arenas.
“We haven’t had that conversation,” Kenney said.
“The NHL and other large events have been operating over the past three months within the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) as numbers have continued to decline sharply for COVID in Alberta. That would strongly suggest that the Restrictions Exemption Program has been working.”
“We’ll always analyze emerging data and be happy to have a discussion with the team management and the NHL,” the premier said.
The premier added that, with the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championship being hosted in Edmonton and Red Deer, those events will have to comply with the REP and any incoming international travelers will have to comply with federal travel measures.
Gibney said gatherings of large people indoors, like at a hockey game, could mean increased spread given the increased transmissibility of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
“A hockey game could be a wonderful opportunity given how transmissible (Omicron) is: when individuals have their masks off, when they’re drinking beer, when obviously they’re cheering on their team if things are going well and they’re roaring and shouting. There’s a huge amount of droplets heading out into the air floating around the arena.”