Doctor likes hub plans, but says CFL and other leagues still face issues

Doctor likes hub plans, but says CFL and other leagues still face issues

TORONTO — Even if the CFL plays an abbreviated ‘20 season in a hub city under the strictest of health-and-safety guidelines, an infectious diseases doctor believes there will still be positive tests for the novel coronavirus that could force the league play to end abruptly.

The CFL is reportedly looking at playing in a single hub or two hub cities to limit teams’ exposure to the virus. But Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases expert at Toronto General Hospital and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said positive tests remain possible and could threaten play — just like in other leagues.

“The short answer is nothing in this era is going to be without risk,” Bogoch said during a telephone interview. “There are certain things we can do to minimize the risk but as with anything, there’s going to be some element of risk of acquiring this infection.

“The league and players can work with medical professionals to make this as safe as possible but at the end of the day they’ll have to sit down collectively and decide, ‘Is this worthwhile.’ As individuals they’ll have to ask themselves, based on the protocols in place and individual risk perception, risk tolerance and risk threshold, ‘Am I willing to play?’”

The CFL and CFL Players’ Association continue to discuss amendments to their current collective bargaining agreement that would allow for a partial ‘20 season. The earliest action would begin is September, but commissioner Randy Ambrosie has said a cancelled campaign also remains possible.

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a global shutdown of sports. In Europe, pro soccer has resumed while domestically Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball, the NHL and NBA are all attempting to either restart or open their seasons.

But it hasn’t been easy as all four North American circuits have had players or team officials contract the virus. FC Dallas was forced to withdraw from the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando after 10 players and one coach tested positive.

The NHL hopes to open training camps Monday and resume play in Edmonton and Toronto on Aug. 1. Players would stay in tightly controlled bubbles and play games without fans.

Teams can bring 52 personnel, with no more than 31 players, to their hub. Everyone in the bubble will be tested daily — including players, staff, hotel workers, food service employees and bus drivers.

Players and team officials will remain inside the bubble except in specific extenuating circumstances. That includes medical attention, the birth of a child or death in the family.

Anyone returning to the bubble will be subject to a minimum four-day quarantine with daily nasal swab tests for COVID-19.

The NHL and NHLPA have the ability to delay, postpone, move or cancel games due to a “risk to player health and safety” and/or chance that “the integrity of the competition” is in jeopardy, including “an uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19.”

However, perhaps the biggest challenge the CFL faces is a financial hurdle. Unlike other major sports entities, it doesn’t have a billion-dollar TV deal and thus isn’t flush with money.

Ambrosie has stated often the nine-team CFL collectively lost $20 million last year. That hardly puts it in an ideal position to cover food and lodging costs for its teams as well as daily testing.

Bogoch said regardless of the measures taken in a hub or bubble, positive test results are inevitable.

“Oh, 100 per cent and there already have been,” he said. “If they do proceed, I think the leagues and fans should be aware that anything can happen.

“The leagues could come to a halt should there be an outbreak or safety concern, individuals or teams might be pulled out. Quite frankly, as much as we want to have high expectations we should really lower them. We’re in the COVID-19 era, anything can happen.”

No league has said a specific number of positive tests will result in the cancellation of games.

Bogoch said hubs and bubbles are beneficial. With the exception of baseball, the other three North American leagues are going with hub plans.

“First, they reduce the probability of introducing infection within the bubble,” he said. “If (infection) is introduced, it really reduces the probability that it can be transmitted.

“If there’s infection it will hopefully be rapidly identified because of the high frequency of diagnostic testing and symptom checks. Now, the best-laid plans can still have holes in them but what we’ve seen with basketball and soccer is these plans work in that they’ve identified positive cases and players have been isolated. That tells me the safety mechanisms are working and that’s fantastic.”

But the mounting positive tests have prompted many to question sport’s return before the discovery of a suitable vaccine.

“The key is ensuring if you’re going to play pro sports, you’re doing it in a safe and ethical manner,” he said. “Safety really means player safety, safety of the auxiliary personnel but also public safety as well.

“Ethical manner means you’re not drawing resources away from the community in which you’re playing. Can that occur while there’s still an ongoing push to ensure safety across the country and develop a vaccine and develop programs? I personally think if it’s carefully planned out, they can both be done very well.”

Bogoch, a Calgary native, is a recreational hockey player in his spare time. But he also watches at least two CFL games each year: The Labour Day Classic between the Calgary Stampeders and arch-rival Edmonton Eskimos; and Grey Cup.

“That (Labour Day game) is just ingrained in my DNA,” he said with a chuckle. “The Labour Day Classic is so quintessential Alberta, it’s wonderful.

“There’s something so Canadian about (the Grey Cup), it’s 40 below in a blizzard and the guys are out on the field. It’s just wild.”

While Bogoch appreciates sport isn’t a priority for some, he said it can definitely provide a boost for others during a pandemic.

“When we step back and think about what’s been happening the last six months and especially since our lockdown in March and throughout our gradual reopening, people have taken a tremendous hit,” he said. “We’ve taken financial hits … we’ve taken emotional and psychological hits by staying at home.

“While some people might say (sport) isn’t an essential service and they’re correct, I think we can also say professional and amateur sports and other forms of entertainment like the arts are extremely important to the psychological and emotional well-being of our society. This may help provide some intangible benefits as well.”

Mercifully, Bogoch sees light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic tunnel.

“I think we’ll gradually see this start to wind down as vaccines are developed and rolled out globally,” he said. “In the best-case scenario it could be as early as late 2020 … but more realistically needles will start going into arms in 2021.

“I think the key word there is globally because if there’s an infection in one part of the world, there’s a problem in all parts of the world. This thing is pretty contagious and people are mobile so we need this vaccine deployed on a global level.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

NHL

Just Posted

Alberta is now below 3,000 active cases of COVID-19, as the province reported 2,639 Wednesday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer below 100 active COVID-19 cases for first time since March

69.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

Premier Jason Kenney says the provincial government is doing everything it can to encourage Albertans to get vaccinated. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Travel prizes added to Alberta’s vaccine lottery

More than 40 travel rewards available for those who are fully vaccinated

Three calves were recently shot dead in Lacombe County near Mirror. (Photo from Facebook)
Calves shot and left for dead in central Alberta

Bashaw RCMP investigating three shootings

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Biden says meeting with Putin not a ‘kumbaya moment’

But U.S. president asserted Russian leader is interested in improved relations, averting a Cold War

Most Read