Game off: Why the province is in no hurry to lift restrictions on team sports

Doug White and his 16-year-old son Zachary have the ice all to themselves these days when they play hockey.

That's because they've started to rent entire sheets of ice, just for their use, because it's one of the only ways to play within the current health restrictions.

"We got a lot of money back from the cancelled minor hockey season," said Doug "So I'm just directing that into ice rentals for us."

White said the cancellation of team sports has been tough on his son.

"Not only does he love hockey the most, it's pretty much the only sport he participates in," said White.  "He's all in for hockey, so it's been tough."

Indoor team sports have been restricted since November: games are forbidden and practices can only happen with a limited amount of participants, staying two metres away from each other.

Rules around youth sports are supposed to be one of the first things relaxed when Alberta enters Step 3 of loosening COVID-19 restrictions. Many hoped that step would happen last week, but rising cases and hospitalizations delayed it.

NOT SO SAFE

Now, health officials suspect sports may not be as safe as originally thought.

"Specific to sports we have seen some transmission in some fitness facilities and in some team practice settings, " said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, "It's critical that the currently requirements of masking and distancing happen every single day when people are engaged in physical activity."

Hinshaw added that transmission through sports is just as likely occurring during socialization before and after workouts as it is during the actual activity.

The province said it's not currently planning to further relax or restrict the rules around sports and that is maintains activity is crucial for Albertans physical and mental well-being.

Back on the ice, Doug White said his son Zachary can't wait to be joined by teammates - but not until it is safe.

"He's extremely anxious," said Doug "But we also have to understand the circumstances."

"We don't want to be too hopeful," he added. "We want to hope for the best but know it's unclear what will happen."