Dr. Michael Stuart, USA Hockey’s chief medical and safety officer, did his best to provide a simple answer to a complicated question: Is it safe to play hockey now?
“Yes, if done correctly,” said Stuart, orthopedic surgeon and co-director of sports medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
As Americans gradually return to more activities during the loosening of restrictions that are part of the ongoing efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, Stuart discussed what is needed to make that return as safe as possible during an interview with USAHockey.com this week.
“The strategies to prevent transmission of infectious diseases have been around for a long time,” Stuart said of routines that have received increased emphasis in recent months. “It’s something that we all should practice and certainly will need to continue in the future.
“Wearing masks and social distancing are new, but frequent handwashing and sanitizing surfaces, etc., are important to reduce spread of influenza, colds and now COVID-19. That is the way of the future and it’s not going away.”
USAHockey.com: Is it safe to play hockey now?
Dr. Michael Stuart: Yes, I think it’s safe to return to many activities, provided we follow the advice of our health-care professionals. Returning to hockey is no different than returning to many other aspects of our lives.
USAH: What can players do to make sure they’re staying safe once they get on the ice?
MS: The players need to adhere to the basic principles of personal hygiene, social distancing, protective equipment and a clean environment. This includes frequently washing your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and using personal water bottles and towels. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to it. So, we certainly want to avoid close contact with anyone who is sick. If they’re not sick even, you want to maintain a distance of six feet when possible by avoiding crowded locker rooms, getting dressed at home, putting on and taking off skates while sitting on chairs that are spaced out in the lobby.
Social distancing is more difficult when on the ice, but USA Hockey has done a wonderful job designing small group practices with novel drills that decrease close player contact. We discourage chalk talks, goal celebrations and post-game handshakes. There are other ways to congratulate and acknowledge both teammates and opponents that don’t involve direct contact.
We should wear cloth-type masks in a public setting; for example, arrival and departure from the arena. Our hockey facilities are well aware of the principles of disinfecting surfaces and equipment after each use.
USAH: What are some specific things that the players and their parents need to understand about the ways they should be cleaning their equipment?
MS: Sanitize your hands as soon as you leave the ice, wipe down surfaces with disinfectants and clean your equipment, including stick, gloves and helmet. There may be some advantage in wearing a full shield that can block some droplets if people sneeze or cough. However, no currently available facial protection can prevent inhalation of aerosolized droplets.
USAH: Other than what we’ve already discussed, is there anything that parents should know when watching out for their children as they return to hockey and other sports?
MS: Parents should follow local and state guidelines. We should plan to stay home if we have any symptoms, such as cough, fever, loss of taste or smell. We should not assemble in large groups just yet. We are excited about getting our athletes back on the ice, but should avoid crowded lobbies or stands. Social distancing applies to everyone, not just the athletes.
USAH: For coaches, what are things they should be doing in the rinks?
MS: Coaches have to be aware that they may be more susceptible to COVID-19 than our young athletes. The same personal hygiene, social distancing and personal protection applies to them. A coach may choose to wear a mask on the ice because they don’t have the same level of physical exertion as their players do.
USAH: The other part of the equation is the officials. What can officials do to protect themselves and what are some extra steps they might be able to take to keep all involved in the game safe?
MS: The same principles apply to our officials. There should be hand sanitizer on the benches, in the penalty box area and the scorer’s table so they can clean their hands during a break in the action. They should avoid touching their face after handling the puck. Officials are actively skating throughout the game, so it may be difficult to wear a mask.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.