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Northern Ontario curlers Brad Jacobs, Bobby Ray weigh in on COVID-19 and curling

Curling is going ahead during this pandemic, but those involved in the sport are focusing more on staying healthy while keeping their skills brushed up.

We have to accept it ... roll with the punches and do whatever we can to stay in shape, stay ready'

Sault Ste. Marie Olympic gold medalist Brad Jacobs says he remains optimistic that curling playoffs will continue. "But, you know, with everything that's going on, especially here in Ontario, and cases going up ... who knows? We've got to make sure we take extra precautions and and and stay safe." (@grandslamcurl/Twitter)

Curling is going ahead during this pandemic, but those involved in the sport are focusing more on staying healthy while keeping their skills brushed up.

There have been many changes to ensure people don't spread COVID-19 — and many events have been cancelled. At a curling competition in Kitchener-Waterloo this past weekend, a notification from the COVID-Alert app to one of the players resulted in a quick end to the action.

Sault Ste. Marie Olympic gold medalist Brad Jacobs was competing, and says he was disappointed and shocked when the event was cancelled.

"I know that they had to come to a tough decision and we accept that. So hopefully, fingers crossed, the next event is still scheduled to run. We're going to sit tight down here and wait to see if anything else happens," he said. 

Jacobs says they've been making plenty of adjustments to game play to accommodate pandemic safety measures.

"The big thing that stands out for me as skip is I can't sweep at all," he said.

"No skip out there does any sweeping whatsoever. So we basically just stand on the back boards or behind the hack until the other team is finished. And then we can go up and proceed and we sort of switch spots and we always have to wear masks. Everybody's wearing a mask out there at all times."

He acknowledged that can be pretty tough on the sweepers, "breathing heavy after a big sweep through the mask."

Only one player is allowed to sweep at a time.

"The second sweeper can help judge a curling stone, but you're only allowed one sweeper every time. So those are some of the the big changes."

Jacobs says he remains optimistic that the playoffs will continue.

"But, you know, with everything that's going on, especially here in Ontario, and cases going up ... who knows? We've got to make sure we take extra precautions and and and stay safe."

The team is hopeful they'll be able to enter one or two more events before Christmas, in a bid to at least to keep their skills honed.

"We have to accept it. And we are and can just roll with the punches for now and do whatever we can to stay in shape, stay ready," Jacobs said.

"Hopefully we get some ice back home and we can continue to practice and and hone our craft."

Even getting ice time in Sault Ste. Marie will be a challenge, he noted, saying the ice won't be ready until the first week in November — and that's a best-case scenario.

The executive director of the Northern Ontario Curling Association says other northern Ontario clubs are in the same situation.

"I think there's about six clubs that are putting in ice as we speak," said Bobby Ray, who's based in North Bay.

"So they're getting ready to open in that mid-October post Thanksgiving time of the year, which is critical for larger clubs in northern Ontario. And then we heard from a couple of handfuls of clubs that they haven't decided yet what their opening dates will be. And there are several clubs that have postponed until January. And it's not even to say that they're definitely open in January. But if they will, it won't be until after the new year."

Ray says he's confident many clubs will be able to offer safe, recreational curling within their communities and have enough control to make it a viable operation for the winter.

"Curling Canada partnered with our member associations, including the Northern Ontario Curling Association. They have protocols, such as only having one sweeper, offering different recommendations like staggering start times, [keeping] people separated in the hall and to wear masks," he said.

"It seems very safe to do ... it's a real opportunity to focus on development. And you'll see that in other sports [like] hockey. Not posting a lot of tournaments, but breaking the groups into smaller cohorts and really developing and rounding out skills."

But on the competitive side of curling, the answers are not so clear.

"We'd love to do it ... that's our responsibility, to develop curling into those competitions and to grow the game. But we also know that we need to make some smart decisions about the health of our players, also our volunteers, our officials and so on."

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