December 08, 2020
New Jersey's high school ice hockey season has been heavily impacted by coronavirus restrictions implemented on winter sports by Gov. Phil Murphy.
There may be good reason for that.
Though most youth and high school sports have not been found to produce many coronavirus outbreaks, ice hockey has presented a very different reality, according to the Washington Post. Massachusetts, Maine and Minnesota have experienced massive COVID-19 outbreaks tied to ice hockey competitions.
Yet, these outbreaks haven’t been the result of people ignoring public health and safety measures, as ice hockey teams have been found to follow indoor gathering limits, mandate face mask-wearing and implement social distancing practices.
Instead, public health experts believe that the rink, designed to restrict air flow and ventilation, may trap the virus roughly 6 to 9 feet above the ice.
The outbreaks also may be a product of how the sport is played, epidemiologists told the newspaper. The quick bursts that ice hockey players take across the ice lead to heavier breathing and more droplets being dispersed into the air.
To curb the spread of COVID-19 at such events, seven Northeast governors — including Murphy — prohibited interstate ice hockey games for the rest of 2020.
For New Jersey, it was just one aspect of a ban on interstate competitions affecting all indoor youth and high school sports. Murphy implemented the ban last month.
Last week, Murphy suspended all indoor youth, high school and adult sports until 2021 due to the recent uptick in coronavirus cases. The state has seen COVID-19 outbreaks tied to indoor sports, specifically to social gatherings outside of competitions, Murphy said.
The suspension, which took effect Saturday, has had the most direct impact on the high school ice hockey season.
Initially, indoor practices were expected to begin next week, with games commencing Jan. 4. The season was slated to wrap up by Feb. 17.
Instead, indoor practices have been pushed back until Jan. 3 and competitions have been postponed until Jan. 15. The season will now run until March 6, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association announced. Virtual contact and outdoor practices can be held starting Monday.
All other winter high school sports were not to start workouts until at least January, and the NJSIAA had already called off all games and competitions until 2021.
High school ice hockey teams cannot begin competitions until a team has practiced at least six times, indoors or outdoors. Virtual practices, however, do not count toward that number.
Teams can partake in no more than three games per week and a maximum of 15 contests this season. That number includes any games played in league or conference tournaments.
Out-of-state competition and multi-team events are banned, and the NJSIAA will not be sponsoring a postseason tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.