North Shore sports team organizers and fitness studio owners say they are continuing to grapple with the impact of changing COVID-19 restrictions from the provincial health office.
On Monday, the province’s top doctor Dr. Bonnie Henry announced most sports restrictions announced in recent weeks will stay.
Team sports in British Columbia have been suspended for all adults and scaled back for all youth athletes, meaning games, tournaments and competitions are suspended.
Group fitness sessions are on hold, but some lower-intensity activities may soon be allowed to restart with additional protocols and restrictions in place. Individual training is allowed to continue.
For Mehdi Pouroskoui, owner of KB-ONE martial arts academy in North Vancouver, the changing rules have been a challenge to keep up to.
In a typical year, his martial arts studio runs two children’s classes per day and two or three adult classes. The studio was shut this spring, then started up in June with a limit on numbers allowed in each class and new COVID-19 protocols. Now adult group sessions – which pay the bulk of his overhead – are shut down again.
Pouroskoui says that’s frustrating because some other fitness businesses, like weightlifting gyms, are continuing to operate.
“The authorities are picking and choosing,” he said. “It’s extremely confusing.”
The sudden changes to health orders last week forced sport organizations to make on-the-fly adjustments to training sessions and games scheduled for youth athletes.
“It’s been a long few weeks and it's difficult because I feel like we are constantly taking opportunities away from our children,” said Ruth Burr, president of the West Vancouver Football Club.
Cancellation of all games has been hard on young athletes, said Burr.
“For many of our players, the games on the weekend are the highlight of playing soccer. I'm sorry so many of them are feeling disappointed right now.”
Burr said she’s been somewhat perplexed by the orders as health authorities have always said “children playing sports outdoors is one of the safest environments that children can be in.”
The new rules have resulted in more restrictions at both the North Shore Winter Club and Hollyburn Country Club, as well as to publicly run recreation programs in North and West Vancouver.
All adult team sports and programs/lessons with more than two people have been halted, and fitness classes, dance and minor hockey games have been cancelled, said NSWC general manager Joanna Hayes. Tennis, racquetball and squash are all restricted to singles play only.
The Hollyburn Country Club was recently forced to shut its tennis facilities for two weeks by Vancouver Coastal Health after those were linked to a cluster of COVID-19 cases. The tennis facility is slated to reopen Dec. 8 with new protocols in place.
Henry said last week she put the orders in place because between 10 to 15 per cent of recent COVID-19 cases have been linked to sports or fitness activities.
“And that's just an under estimate. Those are the ones that we know that we have linked,” she said.
Henry acknowledged it’s difficult for people to understand why certain activities are allowed while others are banned.
Henry said in the case of adult sports, many activities are social gatherings as well as athletic events.
“And unfortunately, those types of gatherings are leading to transmission events that are happening.”
“Tennis is a good example where we've had quite large clusters related to a tennis club, not the activity itself, but the ancillary activities around playing tennis,” said Henry.
In one case, said Henry, an adult men’s old-timers hockey team in the Interior travelled to Alberta for a game and came back with COVID-19, passing it to people in their households and their workplaces.
– with files from Andy Prest