Huron Perth Public Health and others expand vaccination requirements
In a special joint health unit media briefing last week, local medical officers of health announced that anyone over the age of 12 accessing recreational facilities in the area would require proof of double COVID-19 vaccination.
Representatives from the Middlesex-London Health Unit, Southwestern Public Health and Huron Perth Public Health held a digital press conference last Wednesday through Microsoft Teams to announce the change.
While the province had required people over the age of 18 to provide proof of vaccination when entering community centres for recreational purposes, the more stringent regulations, which will come into effect Oct. 31, require anyone over the age of 12 who enters an indoor area of a sports or recreational facility to participate in, volunteer as coach at, officiate or watch an organized sport will be required to provide proof of vaccination.
“Indoor sports increase the risk of spreading COVID-19,” Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer of Health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit said during the call. “We have seen outbreaks in these settings across Canada and immunization is the solution if we want sports to continue.”
The three health units were scheduled to put out a letter of instruction shortly after the announcement to the owners and operators of facilities, both public and private, in their respective communities.
“We’re sending the letters out due to the dangers of these spaces,” Dr. Joyce Lock, Medical Officer of Health for Southwestern Public Health said. “The changes are set for Oct. 31, so there is time for people to get the vaccine.”
Mackie said there is an increased risk of both inhaling and exhaling the virus in sports situations, and there is also prolonged contact, during which players would likely not want to wear a mask to be able to compete at full strength. Those situations create high chances for transmission, which is compounded by the indoor aspect of the facilities.
When asked which sports pose the highest risk, Mackie said it was likely hockey, adding his health unit has already seen outbreaks through the sport. He said the one-to-one or person-to-person coverage in hockey, added with heavy breathing, increases the risk of transmitting COVID-19, as does higher metabolic activity.
Lock said that, in Middlesex and London there have been cases associated with hockey events, even with the truncated season that went ahead last year.
“Even with minimal amounts of play we saw spread,” she said. “We do hope to have more play this year… and this is an added measure to make sure we can do so safely.”
Huron Perth Public Health Medical Officer of Health Dr. Miriam Klassen said the same thing has happened in Huron and Perth Counties, but she said she’s also seen outbreaks from basketball games.
The medical officers of health were also asked if there were any concerns about verifying vaccination status. Klassen said there will be a learning curve, but local health units will be able to mitigate some of those concerns. Lock agreed, saying beyond that, the provincial support and forthcoming smartphone app should help reduce the burden on those attending sports facilities.
“This is the best method of trying to keep these sports going all winter,” Lock said. “If we have one person in a team that gets COVID-19, it not only impacts that one person and their family, but often the whole team will not be able to play in the 10 days following. It’s a bit of work, but it’s a small job considering how much pleasure people will get from team sports.”
When asked what kind of penalties people could face for non-compliance, Mackie said the letter of instruction would describe the penalties which could see individuals and corporations charged hundreds of thousands of dollars for repeat offences.
Klassen said the idea was to start with progressive enforcement, including education, to help facilities and users come into compliance.
Lock agreed, saying it’s not about the penalties, but about having as normal of a regular sports season as possible over the winter.
Mackie, when asked about the impact of the move, said there will be “tens of thousands” of people affected in London and Middlesex alone, however the 12-17 age group there has between 80 and 85 per cent partial- and full-vaccination status, so most people are already prepared.
For more information, visit hpph.ca.