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State closes indoor ice rinks for two weeks after COVID-19 spike connected to hockey

Two women arrived for a woman's hockey league game played Friday morning at the Veteran's Memorial Skating Rink.
Two women arrived for a woman's hockey league game played Friday morning at the Veteran's Memorial Skating Rink.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The Department of Public Health on Thursday ordered indoor ice rinks in Massachusetts closed for two weeks after a rise in COVID-19 cases connected to hockey practices and games, officials said.

The closure order, which lasts from 5 p.m. Friday to Nov. 7, does not include college and professional hockey programs, the department said in a statement.

Massachusetts Hockey said in a separate statement that many facilities, players, and families have adhered to safety protocols to slow the spread of COVID-19, but “there have been situations and areas where the Commonwealth feels compliance with the guidance has not been followed.”

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Kevin Kavanagh, Massachusetts Hockey’s executive director, and Bob Joyce, its president, cautioned that not addressing the state’s concerns could lead to a longer shutdown.

“Until the rinks are allowed to reopen, we hope that everyone takes a moment to think about why we play this great game and how our actions can impact others,” Kavanagh and Joyce said.

There have been at least 30 clusters of infections totaling 108 confirmed cases related to organized hockey at rinks across the state, the Department of Health said. People from more than 60 cities and towns across Massachusetts have been infected.

Three dozen Hanover High School hockey players had to self-quarantine after a team member tested positive for COVID-19 over the Columbus Day holiday weekend, the superintendent said last week.

Also last week, Tory Mazzola, spokesperson for the state’s COVID command center, said teams were contact-tracing after several outbreaks at hockey rinks.

While rinks are closed, officials will work on more effective protocols for blocking the spread of the virus, the Department of Public Health said. Currently there are limits on arena capacity, social distancing requirements, and other precautions.

Neighboring states have also enacted temporary bans on indoor ice hockey in response to spikes in the virus. New Hampshire officials announced last week a 14-day closure of rinks following positive coronavirus tests for 158 people associated with the sport over the last two months. The New Hampshire ban includes college teams as well as youth and amateur organizations.

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Also last week, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating the case of a hockey referee who may have exposed more than 400 people before testing positive. The Maine Amateur Hockey Association, after receiving a warning letter from the state, temporarily suspended all games.

Last week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study that warned hockey games could turn into “superspreader events.”

“Hockey is a game that could facilitate transmission of COVID-19 for several reasons. It’s played indoors, the plexiglass shields around the rink limit ventilation, and the exertion of the players mean they are breathing heavily while close to each other — either during play or on the bench, and also in the locker rooms,” said Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.