In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, an Old Town-Orono senior rushes across the ice during a practice at Alfond Sports Arena in Orono. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Interstate youth hockey matches are halted until at least January because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday.

Mills announced the suspension in a joint statement with the governors of New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts. It will apply to all private and public school hockey programs — as well as youth hockey programs — across Maine beginning Saturday and lasting until Dec. 31, though that timeline could be extended.

The governors said they were ordering the suspension in response to COVID-19 spikes linked to interstate hockey. The suspension will not affect Maine hockey teams at the college and professional levels.

The suspension comes amid rising COVID-19 cases across Maine and neighboring northeastern states. A report last month from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month found that the risk of coronavirus spread in hockey, which is played inside with close contact between players, seemed to be higher than other sports.

State officials said Friday that recreational hockey and basketball leagues across Maine would need to shut down until December. Upon reopening, they will be required to adhere to several rules, including that athletes wear masks during competition.

The potential dangers of both intrastate and interstate hockey travel were highlighted in October when a referee who tested positive for coronavirus interacted with an estimated 400 people in ice rinks across southern Maine and New Hampshire. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention never linked any other positive cases to that referee.

Rinks have shut down across New England as health officials link hundreds of cases to the sport, the Boston Globe reported last month.

The Maine Principals’ Association, which governs interscholastic sports across Maine, announced rules for winter sports on Friday. Players will also be required to don masks throughout matches, and the schedule will be pushed up to January to reduce the risk of spread.