Winnipeg city officials urge hockey spectators to follow COVID-19 rules or risk arena closures

"Wear a friggin mask," Mayor Brian Bowman says after city staff report spectators failing to wear face masks, or properly distance and exit following games in city-owned arenas.

'Wear a friggin' mask,' think of others as city battles COVID-19 surge, says Mayor Brian Bowman

Jason Shaw, assistant chief of emergency management, says the city has noticed that hockey spectators at city-owned arenas are sometimes not following public health orders. (dotshock/Shutterstock)

Hockey fans and players need to smarten up and follow public health orders, or risk having their arenas closed altogether, City of Winnipeg officials warned during a news conference Friday. 

The warning comes as the city battles the worst surge of COVID-19 cases in the province since the beginning of the pandemic, prompting Mayor Brian Bowman to urge people to think of others, and wear a face mask. 

Jason Shaw, Winnipeg's assistant chief of emergency services, said city staff have noticed some people "could be doing a better job" of physical distancing and wearing face masks, and of properly exiting the venue following games in city-owned arenas. 

The city does not want to resort to having to shut arenas down, but it could come to that if such behaviour continues, Shaw said. 

"We just want to make sure it's safe. We really want people to be able to enjoy these facilities," he said. 

Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said that contact tracing has shown that COVID-19 is spreading through recreational sports.

"We've seen a number of contacts in a number of transmission events during recreational sports," he said.

That's because there's sometimes not just a game of hockey, "but having drinks afterwards with the entire team, and both teams in change rooms.… We're seeing transmission events," he said.

"[There is] a lot of benefit to physical activity and we want to see people active, but we can do things to reduce the risk involved in those activities."

Many city school divisions have already cancelled their high school hockey seasons due to the pandemic, including the Winnipeg School Division, River East Transcona and Louis Riel. The St. James-Assiniboia school division said at the start of this month that it wouldn't be fielding any sports teams until after mid-October at the earliest.

In August, Hockey Manitoba — the governing body for amateur hockey in the province — said it wouldn't allow any tournaments, events, or out-of-province travel to take place until Nov. 1 at the earliest. That date has since been extended to January. 

Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods said from what he's seen, coaches and players in programs sanctioned by his organization, and their spectators, have been following the rules. 

He said those not following the rules need to think about the other groups they could be affecting. He pointed out that it's not just amateur hockey that uses those rinks, but speed skating, figure skating, ringette, and rec hockey as well, and that everyone needs to be responsible. 

"It's a minor inconvenience and sacrifice for the greater good here, not only for the ability to allow your sport to continue, but also the safety and well-being of not only your members, but also the overall community," he said.

"So for somebody to say that they're not I'm not going to wear masks unless they have a health issue, I think is not very responsible."

'Look after people': Bowman

As Winnipeg struggles to get its COVID-19 numbers under control, Mayor Brian Bowman said he has noticed anti-mask protests outside city hall in recent weeks. 

Bowman said that he recognizes that some people cannot wear a mask for medical reasons, but for everyone else, his message was simple. 

"Wear a friggin' mask," he said. 

"Look after people other than yourself. And you can do that by simply wearing a mask."

Mayor Brian Bowman asked Winnipeggers to think of others and wear a face mask during a difficult time for the city. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

Wearing a mask is a relatively easy step everyone can take during a time when many are making major sacrifices, Bowman said, pointing to families that have had to restrict or forgo funerals, businesses that are struggling, and the toll the pandemic is taking on the mental health of many.

"It's one way to mitigate some of the heartbreaking stories that we're hearing about the sacrifices that people are having to make," he said.

"It's some semblance of control in a situation where I know Winnipeggers are not feeling like they're in full control of things."

On Friday, the province announced gathering sizes in Winnipeg will be limited to five people as of Monday — the tightest restriction Manitoba has imposed so far.

It's one of several tougher rules that were announced for Winnipeg and several surrounding municipalities, which will be in place for at least two weeks. 

Those also include reducing the number of spectators at after-school activities and all sporting events to 25 per cent of a site's capacity.

The city is also introducing some changes of its own. These include suspending all in-home, non-emergency inspections for assessment and taxation, bylaw enforcement, planning, property and development, and water and waste.

When possible, inspections will continue using photos or over the phone.

In-home visits for emergency utility services will continue, but water meter reading and inspections, as well as water meter returns, removals, and replacements are suspended until further notice.


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