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ON THE RUN — Don White of Athletics Yukon takes part in the Haeckell Hill run on May 29, 2021.

Yukon COVID Response Team hosts sports and rec meeting

The Yukon COVID Response Team held a Zoom meeting with the principle sports and recreation organizations in Whitehorse last Friday.

By Morris Prokop on July 12, 2021

The Yukon COVID Response Team held a Zoom meeting with the principle sports and recreation organizations in Whitehorse last Friday. The meeting was held to collectively address concerns of the various organizations regarding COVID-19 protocols and how to deal with ongoing and upcoming events in the area. It was intended to ease anxiety and provide information to make informed decisions regarding COVID-19 protocol.

Michael Hougen, policy analyst- COVID 19, facilitated the meeting, and Shannon Ryan, policy analyst, both of the Yukon government’s Department of Health and Social Services COVID Response Team, answered questions from the participants.

During the meeting, Ryan said vaccination is the key.

“Don’t allow people to come sick.”, said Ryan. “Don’t allow your coaches to coach sick, don’t allow your players to come if they’re sick, and if anyone has symptoms, we highly highly highly recommend they get tested. Because we have community spread, we want anyone to go in and get tested.”

“Let’s keep playing, but playing safely.”Ryan added.

Don White, Director and Head Coach of Athletics Yukon, participated in the meeting. He said what came out of the meeting for him is that it’s pretty well status quo for now.

“Pretty much what I was expecting. We’re pretty much following the protocol the way it was laid out before, trying to match the stuff that’s coming out of the Yukon and trying to match what we’re being asked to do from Athletics Canada. The thing that they’re really pushing for is get vaccinated, keep the groups small, keep active and keep doing what we’re doing. Because we’re doing everything outside, it’s not such a big issue. The big thing was trying to follow the Athletics Canada protocol, where we had to keep a hand written documentation of everybody that was going to be there, including all the waivers and all the attestations.”

“Paula Pasquale (Boreal Adventures Race Association) asked the one question about the trail marathon. They’ve got a kill date in mind, and they wanted to know if there was anything that they should be aware of. Basically, there’s nothing. We’re already maxed out at the hospital, the numbers are climbing….we’ve got the people that are in helping out with medical and that kind of thing. The hope is that things will start to stabilize and decline again. It’s just a matter of keeping up with the safe six and restricting numbers and keeping it outside. The one thing they were quite concerned about was the people who aren’t vaccinated yet. So whether that’s age groups or vulnerabilities from various communities, that kind of thing. But they really pushed the don’t socialize…when you’re there don’t socialize afterwards. Try to keep it minimal and if you’re going to end up doing anything, adhere to all the guidelines …that are out there.”

When asked if there appears to be hope on the horizon, White replied, “No, not really. They said the big thing is that we’re in community transmission and while we’ve been in the pandemic for over a year, this is really the first big hit that the Yukon has gone and suffered through. So it’s just a matter of basically being on our guard, making sure that we keep track of what’s going on, that we keep the distances, contact, and all the rest of it minimal. They basically enforced the point that if we’re basically dealing with the same people all the time it’s not such a big deal, it’s more important if we start getting mixtures of people coming in. With Athletics, we tend to get a certain group of people who come out on Tuesdays, and another group that come out on Thursdays, but as I was saying, the virtual stuff that we’ve done in the past, people are doing that again and it’s not that big a deal.

“The thing that would kind of concern us most is either when we’re coaching, and we don’t have that many kids coming out to be coached right now, none of the seniors or the 55+ games are coming out at this point, and the numbers that we;re getting on Tuesday and Thursday nights are all quite manageable and within the limits that the CMOH and the (COVID) group have set.”

Some news about potential funding did come out of the meeting. White says, “Most of it was status quo, keep on doing what you’re doing. The things that were interesting were the business about new funding that is coming down the pipe that Maria (Cairns, YG Sport and Recreation Branch Acting Director mentioned). Other than that, it’s just status quo-try and keep safe.

Athletics Yukon recently announced on Facebook on July 5 that they would be holding off on in-person events for two weeks. White says the recent announcement by Dr. Brendan Henley influenced the group’s decision.As for the reaction to the decision, White says people are used to doing their sport virtually anyway.

As fas as what it would take to allow in-person events again, White says “Basically for the COVID group to advise us that the latest outbreak is on the down low. That things have improved to the point where they feel free to let the gathering sizes increase. We’re hoping it happens before the first of August.”

Stacy Lewis, a director on the board of Sport Yukon and secretary of Tennis Yukon, also participated in the meeting.

She outlines the purpose of the meeting.

“The COVID Response Team has been receiving so many questions…so they decided to be more efficient and try to talk to everybody at once, which was great. So they put out an invitation a couple of days ago for a meeting, saying to all sports groups, ‘If you have any questions about holding events, or even holding your regular practices, games…your regular season…join this meeting and ask your questions.’

Lewis says things have changed a lot in the last few months.

“We all made our plans in a different context. We all made our plans in March, April, May when we had no cases. And all of a sudden here we are in July with an outbreak, and an outbreak among young people, which it’s…got it’s own complications to it.”

Lewis did have a question for the COVID Response Team.

“We’re a group where we run a facility but we don’t control how and when people come. We run the courts, and we have events and lessons, and we control those times, but 90 percent of the time it’s just players coming, and so I was really concerned that…we have it set up, we have rules, you have to sign the rules, you have to sign the waiver, but you are at the end of the day leaving it up to people on the honour system, that they don’t come to the courts when they’re sick, that they don’t share a water bottle with there friends. Compared to other sports that sort of occur in a more organized way, with a team arriving at a certain time and a team leaving at a certain time, and you’re trying to kind of keep people managing them more directly. We’re a non-profit organization. We can’t afford to have anyone sitting there, even if that was the preferred route of control. We would just have to close. We couldn’t do that.”

The general consensus seemed to be that the sports and rec organizations are only responsible for their own players and coaches when it comes to record-keeping for contact tracing.

Lewis was encouraged by the response from the YG team.

“The CMOH and the COVID Response team, they don’t want to stop people from doing activities. If anything, they’re encouraging people, just because it’s so much healthier for everyone, physically and mentally, if they can keep being active. They really want to see activities continue. They don’t want to be having people shut down. But it has to be safe too.”

One of the topics that came up was intergenerational events, for example those mixing elderly people with unvaccinated youth.

Lewis says, “There are people who have multigenerational aspects to their activity. So you have older people who may or may not be vaccinated. You have under 12s, who you know are not vaccinated, cause they can’t be yet. She (Shannon Ryan) basically said,’That’s a bad idea. Try not to do that.’ There were many questions about team sports. The team arrives….and they play, but then they all leave together. Where do they go and what do they do? At that point, you’re not in charge of them. You just have to hope that they…follow the rules. You’re trying to reduce gatherings. That’s before the activity and after the activity…but then there’s also spectators. We’re actually at a point now of really discouraging spectators of anything.

“And then there were people like the Yukon trail people who had a date identified as a go no go date, do you have any sort of benchmarks we can use? She wasn’t really keen on that, because…if there’s a 100 cases, but they’re all teenagers, and the event’s going to be all vaccinated adults, there’s no reason to cancel the event. She (Ryan) was very reluctant about giving them any hard numbers.”

Was Lewis satisfied with the meeting?

“I certainly feel like the sport and rec community got some more specific information. Definitely.”

Lewis added that there was an excellent turnout for the meeting. 35 people participated in it via Zoom.

“It was a fantastic turnout. That represents quite a lot of people. There could easily be a couple hundred people with each of those groups.

“Certainly from our perspective, last summer and this summer are black and white. Last summer was so like….don’t do this, you can’t do that, this is canceled, that is canceled, and this summer there’s definitely a feeling of more latitude to do stuff, and we don’t want to lose that.”

The Yukon River Trail Marathon is scheduled to run, literally, on Sunday, August 1. It’s one of the events that could be affected by the current COVID protocols, and as such, was a topic at the meeting. Ken Sylvestre is the treasurer for the Boreal Adventures Race Association, the organization holding the event. According to Sylvestre, July 18th is the day when a decision will be made as to whether the race goes ahead. Sylvestre agreed that it would be dependant on the situation with the outbreak. “I think so.We’re keen on holding the event, but there might be some circumstances under which it would be too risky.”

And if the situation stays the same?

“The same or less, we’re hoping we can hold it.” replied Sylvestre.

“There was a little bit of touching on things like situation at the hospital…they’re challenged a little bit right now, so that would be a …probably a factor. It’s an unknown situation for everyone I guess. We really did want to hold it. We did a fairly extensive plan that was reviewed by the COVID team. We are planning on keeping everybody as distanced as possible, low contact, no gathering at the finish line, limiting people in Rotary park, and spacing out the start.

“We are hoping to be positive about it, but we certainly do not want to put people in danger. I do think we have quite a few safety protocols in place, so we’re really hoping that can lead us to holding a safe event. It’s a challenging year. “

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