WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — With COVID-19 surging, schools returning to full remote, and warnings about Thanksgiving gatherings - many parents are wondering why "low risk" indoor sports for youth are allowed to continue and if they are safe?
"It is very difficult. I think there is confusion all over. We just go day-by-day and do the best we can," said Chris Roswell, general manager of Leisure Rinks in West Seneca.
Roswell said inspectors from the Erie County Department of Health recently visited the twin hockey rink facility and gave it permission to operate at 50% capacity, which would mean about 1,000 people inside.
However, Roswell is so concerned about the coronavirus that Leisure Rinks and Holiday Rinks in Cheektowaga (both have the same owner) have decided to only allow 5% capacity; which means 25 people on the ice with just one parent/guardian allowed to watch.
"I think it is important that we follow not only the letter of the law but the spirit of the law," added Roswell.
Since Leisure and Holiday Rinks are in Erie County's COVID "orange zone," extra steps are being taken to keep hockey families safe:
- Vending machines are wrapped in plastic to prevent touching.
- Mask and social distancing signs are everywhere.
- Locker rooms are being closed down.
- Players can only put on skates at designated spots that are sanitized afterward.
- Snack bars are closed.
- Players must come from home wearing equipment (other than skates) and must change out at home.
- Any merchandise touched in the rinks' hockey store is removed from the shelves, placed behind a counter and sanitized, before being put back on display.
- Staff are dedicated to sanitizing areas used by teams and spectators before the next group comes in.
Leisure Rinks is home to the Southtowns Stars Amateur Hockey Association. The association recently informed parnets that one of its members tested positive for COVD-19. The affected team will now stay off the ice through November 27.
As a result of that, Chris Roswell said his staff "deep cleaned" areas used by the Southtowns Stars as a precaution.
Approximately 45 to 50 youth hockey teams are booking ice time at both Leisure and Holiday Rinks to keep players in shape with hopes there will be a hockey season in January 2021 or afterward.
Games and scrimmages are not allowed currently, with only non-contact practice permitted using skating and puck handling techniques.
Hockey is not the only indoor youth sport continuing during the pandemic: indoor soccer is also underway.
One 'soccer mom' told reporter Ed Reilly there seems to be mixed messages about the virus' danger as schools are going fully remote and people are being warned about gathering for Thanksgiving. Yet, kids are allowed to gather for so-called "low risk" indoor sports.
The mother said the inconsistency is putting tremendous stress on parents who worry about safety and if their children will lose positions on a team if they don't partake in practices during the surge.
In addition, the parent said different indoor sports facilities are telling families different things about capacity - with some saying it is 50% and others saying it is only 10 people.
So, what are the "orange zone" rules for indoor youth sports?
7 Eyewitness News asked the New York State Department of Health for clarification and received the following response from spokesperson Jeffrey Hammond:
Ice rinks can open for individual hockey training and no contact group training.
- The rink should consult the State-issued guidance for sports and recreation to determine the occupancy limits that apply to their operations
- Please read the guidance here: https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/SportsAndRecreationMasterGuidance.pdf [governor.ny.gov]