As Alberta hospitals teeter toward collapse, medical experts want pro sports to limit crowds
There is tension surrounding professional sports in Alberta, including the upcoming NHL season, as health care providers in Alberta are concerned for the safety of both players and fans amid a punishing fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a story by TSN's Rick Westhead, more than a dozen infectious disease experts and doctors say now is not the time to have arenas full of fans.
"It is completely reckless to be hosting hockey games with 100 per cent capacity with 18,500 fans in a closed environment where we know that transmission flourishes," Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease doctor in Edmonton, told CTV News.
Schwartz and the other doctors say Alberta's intensive care units are just a few patients away from having to choose who gets a bed and who does not. The province asked for federal support earlier this week to assist with the hospital crisis. According to the latest details from Canada's Department of Defence, that help is already on its way.
"This is, indeed, a huge crisis," said Dr. Noel Gibney.
"At the same time we want to have the Flames and Oilers (play) to full stadiums, we're looking at a situation where the province is begging other provinces, such as Ontario, to take air transfers from our ICUs to creat capacity," he said.
There are also forgery concerns given how easily the province's downloadable vaccine passport is to alter.
Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation, which owns and operates the Calgary Flames, Calgary Stampeders, Calgary Hitmen and Calgary Roughnecks, has unveiled its vaccination policy and will utilize Portpass, a Calgary-made app that was also used for entry to Nashville North during the Calgary Stampede.
Users upload some identification and vaccination information and receive a code to scan for entry.
"We've tried to be leaders in the community in terms of, you know, supporting anything health initiative-wise to make sure that we can keep everybody, not only our fans, but everyone in the provinces as healthy as we possibly can," Flames GM Brad Treliving told reporters on Wednesday.
Edmonton Oilers ownership also requires proof of vaccines or negative test result and face masks.
The Flames host the Oilers on Sunday for a preseason game. The team expects capacity for its four home preseason games to be between 60 and 70 per cent. A spokesperson did not answer whether limited capacity will be considered for regular season games.
Cavalry FC tested its vaccination protocol at Spruce Meadows Wednesday when the team hosted Pacific FC.
Cavalry spectators were among the first Alberta fans to be checked for vaccination or a negative test result from within 48 hours. Face masks are required indoors, encouraged outdoors.
The vaccination status of professional athletes continues to be a concern.
While the entire Flames roster is double-dosed, Edmonton Oiler Josh Archibald is not immunized.
Another Oiler, Duncan Keith is still in quarantine after receiving his second shot and has missed some of training camp.
Ken Holland, the Oilers GM and president of hockey operations, says unvaccinated players could miss a significant amount of games given cross border travel restrictions and quarantine measures.
The NHL does not have a vaccine mandate for players but there are restrictions.
There are now 1,058 COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals including 226 in ICU.