Hockey teams that are playing games against other teams are violating the State of Maine’s COVID-19 guidelines.
The situation came to light after a hockey referee who officiated eight youth hockey games last weekend at the Biddeford Ice Arena, North Yarmouth Academy and Merrill Fay Arena in Laconia, New Hampshire, subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus.
Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday as many as 400 people may have been exposed to the referee.
Jeanne M. Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, on Friday sent a letter to Mike Keaney, the president of the Maine Amateur Hockey Association saying punitive measures will be taken if the association continues to ignore state guidelines.
Penalties could include a fine up to $10,000 and restitution to the state.
“Our approach to enforcement of executive orders and guidance during the coronavirus pandemic has been to begin with education and encourage voluntary compliance,” Lambrew said. “This approach has been largely successful because organizers of activities share the same goal as the State: ensuring public health as we reopen activities.”
Under state guidelines, which apply to both youth and adult sports, ice hockey is categorized as carrying a “moderate risk.” At present, it is considered a “Level 3” activity, which means that if held indoors, teams may only participate in intrasquad practices and scrimmages.
Under the state’s Level 4 guidelines, teams could play against squads from their own geographic region — but only if the competitions were held outdoors.
Level 5 permits games between teams from different geographic areas within Maine and Level 6 enables teams to compete against teams from other states.
But those levels haven’t been approved.
“If non-compliance persists and the spread of COVID-19 through community sports appears to be occurring, we will not hesitate to harden what had been strong recommendations into stringent requirements and take all reasonable and practicable action to enforce them to protect the health and safety of Maine people,” Lambrew said.
According to the Portland Press Herald, four teams from the Biddeford-based Maine Wild hockey program were involved in four games at the Biddeford Ice Arena and the players and coaches from those teams have entered a two-week quarantine.
Brad Church, the director of hockey operations for the Maine Wild program, told the Press Herald they reviewed the protocols when they were updated on Sept. 1 and had taken steps to keep all involved safe.
Shah warned any players or family members who were at those games to consider themselves close contacts of the ref and quarantine at home for two weeks. He also suggested they consider getting tested for COVID-19.
Youth hockey programs in the state have safety protocols in place, such as forbidding spectators or limiting the number of fans to meet state limits of 50 people gathered at an indoor facility. Players must wear face coverings off the ice and coaches must wear them on the bench.
Referees are not required to wear masks.
Youth hockey teams appear to have been playing games for several weeks across southern and central Maine. Games affiliated with other programs have been held at other venues including rinks in Rockport and Bridgton. They included teams from Gorham, Portland, Lewiston and Auburn.
Sawyer Arena in Bangor has yet to open for the season and the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena hasn’t begun renting ice yet. According to the Penobscot Ice Arena website, games are scheduled at the Brewer facility this weekend.
A spokesperson for the Maine Wild, which is based at Biddeford Ice Arena, told the Press Herald their teams have been on the ice since Sept. 8 and have been observing rules designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.