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Mass. teen who played hockey out of state contracts COVID-19

Fans wearing masks watched as Massachusetts Public/Catholic players clashed with Massachusetts Preps players along the boards during a game at Cyclones Arena in Hudson, NH, Aug. 8, 2020.
Fans wearing masks watched as Massachusetts Public/Catholic players clashed with Massachusetts Preps players along the boards during a game at Cyclones Arena in Hudson, NH, Aug. 8, 2020.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

A teenage boy from Massachusetts who crossed state lines to play in an ice hockey tournament has tested positive for COVID-19, raising new concerns about youth sports teams’ efforts to circumvent the state’s restrictions on certain contact sports.

The teenager, who was born in 2006, competed with a New York team in an elite tournament in Connecticut from July 31 to Aug. 2, according to Chet Murch, general manager of The Rinks at Exeter in New Hampshire. At least 12 other players from New York have tested positive for the virus.

Murch said he was informed about the case by a New York contact tracing organization because the Massachusetts boy, not knowing he had contracted the virus, participated in a skills clinic at the Exeter facility after he played in the Connecticut tournament.

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Boys affiliated with at least two Massachusetts youth hockey programs — the Boston Hockey Club and Boston Junior Blues — also competed in the Connecticut tournament, which was dubbed the “War of the Well.” The event was originally scheduled for an arena in Cromwell, Conn., but instead was played at rinks in Hamden and Northford.

Public health authorities have not said whether any other participants in the tournament have been infected. Managers of the Boston Hockey Club and Boston Junior Blues did not respond to requests for comment.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued a statement that said, “DPH is aware of this situation and is in communication with the other New England states to coordinate contact tracing.”

Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center, said coaches and athletes may consider infection rates in neighboring states low enough to participate in contact sports that are not permitted under Governor Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 protocols for Massachusetts. But there is inherent danger.

“The Baker administration has determined that we’re not at a point where we as a state are taking that level of risk” with sports such as ice hockey, Doron said. “So, [the teenager] cheated the system by leaving the state and, lo and behold, there was a risk associated with close contact sports.”

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She said, “When you play contact sports during a pandemic, you’re going to have exposures.”

The New York State Amateur Hockey Association’s board of directors distributed a letter Tuesday reporting that some of the infected players are “very sick” and “in some cases have passed the virus on to family members and/or friends.”

Under New York’s COVID-19 regulations, ice hockey is classified as a high-risk sport, and residents are barred from playing in the state or beyond its borders. The hockey board’s letter said New York players have violated state regulations by participating in tournaments both in New Hampshire and Connecticut, where ice hockey competitions are permitted.

“Players (and some coaches) who participated in these tournaments may now have contracted COVID unknowingly, and could also be passing the virus along to other players in their home rinks and to family members and friends,” the state board’s letter said.

More than one team from New York participated in the Connecticut tournament.

“Reckless decisions that are now leading to positive tests amongst our players will only hurt our attempts to get our sport reopened by the state government,” the board’s letter said.

The Boston Hockey Club and Boston Junior Blues are not affiliated with Massachusetts Hockey, the sport’s governing body in the state. The Boston Hockey Club has continued competing beyond state lines, as they are this week at a tournament in Hooksett, N.H.

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Mass Hockey has enforced the regulation prohibiting its affiliates from competing during the pandemic and now is preparing for games to resume, beginning Monday, with modified rules under the state’s newly revised protocols.

As for the Massachusetts boy who contracted the virus, his condition has not been disclosed. Infectious disease specialists indicated they were most concerned about the possibility of him infecting others.

“He is likely to be fine because younger people tend to have much less severe disease,” said Dr. William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “The problem is, his age group is particularly significant in transmission because they tend to have trouble with social distancing.”

Given how extremely contagious COVID-19 is, Hanage said he hoped public health officials in Connecticut closely investigated whether the virus spread more widely because of transmission at the tournament. State and local public health officials in Connecticut did not respond to requests for comment.

At the arena in Exeter, N.H., Murch said the infected Massachusetts boy attended a clinic with dozens of players from New Hampshire and other New England states after he participated in the Connecticut tournament. Murch said he was not aware of any other players or staff who have tested positive for the virus since then. The other players and staff were advised to quarantine for 14 days or be tested.

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Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.