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Indoor sports are going to be different this year. Here's how different

Sweaty fist-bumps, hugs, are definitely not okay
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Algoma Public Health recently released guidelines on playing organized sports in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical exercise is deemed an essential activity (along with going to work and school, grocery shopping and attending medical appointments). 

COVID-19 is changing the way we work, play and exercise and there still seems to be some confusion around what's okay and what's not recommended and what are the suggested best practices.

While exercise considered essential and organized sports are going forward this year, both practice and competition will look somewhat different than they have in past years.

The basic guidelines say:

  • Before starting a match, athletes are encouraged to wear a mask and wash their hands or apply hand sanitizer.
  • During the match, spectators should remain physically distant.
  • Players should not share equipment nor refreshments nor should they engage in huddling or contact sports. 
  • After the match, suggestions include for the referee or umpire to keep track of players and contacts.
  • Everyone is encouraged to disinfect high-touch surfaces as well as put their mask back on and maintain two meters from one another.
  • Post-game fist-bumps and handshakes are discouraged.
  • Additionally, leagues must contain 50 participants or less, coaches must wear their masks throughout the game and sports must only be played in properly ventilated areas. 

SooToday contacted Algoma Public Health for further clarification on these guidelines.

Nicole Lindalh, Public Health Inspector for APH, says that the policy objective with this guidance is “to minimize serious illness and death, minimize societal disruption, as well as to ensure our health care system is not overwhelmed.” This is in line with all other public health units across Ontario.

The guidelines were written in accordance with Ont. Reg. 364/20 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act

“Under this legislation, public health officials may also issue public health instruction for sports and recreation facilities or organizers.” 

This policy is premised on the idea that Coronavirus-associated risks exist on and off the playing field. Activities like carpooling, sharing meals and travelling between cities should be done with caution, if at all. 

Lindalh clarified that “indoor and outdoor athletes alike are limited to maximum league numbers of 50 players.”

What about physical activity other than organized sports?

The Public Health Inspector said, “Algoma Public Health would provide similar guidance for unorganized sports.”

The Ministry of Sports released its own document on the same topic

“The total number of members of the public permitted to be at the facility in areas containing weights or exercise machines at any one time is limited to the number of people that can maintain a physical distance of at least two metres.”

It can never exceed 50 people.

"The amenities that are not subject to gathering limits, such as swimming pools, tennis courts, and shooting ranges,” reads the document “are subject to maintaining at least two metres of physical distance from every other person at all times unless otherwise stated.”

Other regions with higher numbers of people infected with COVID-19 have different guidelines, according to the colour code of that region.

The Algoma Region — and six others in the province — is in the green zone. Gym patrons in this zone must keep two meters from each other while working out.

Those working out in more COVID-affected areas in the yellow or orange zones, like Toronto and Windsor-Essex, must keep three meters of distance.

In general, “wearing a mask when appropriate, staying home when sick, and maintaining physical distancing from others” are critical steps for personal safety.

Information APH offers comes from a multitude of sources.

“The instruction and guidance that we provide [...] is based on provincial legislation, evidence from scientific institutions such as Public Health Ontario, the experience and expertise of other public health agencies, as well as case by case risk assessments for any unique situations,” said Lindalh.

She noted that APH will keep offering guidelines and advice on sports safety while “COVID-19 is still a risk to public health in our communities."

“This will likely be until there is a widely available vaccine.”

People with Coronavirus-related questions or who have key symptoms should contact their primary health provider, call Telehealth Ontario (at 1 866-797-0000) or visit Ontario’s dedicated website.