Cluster of COVID-19 cases tied to Anchorage hockey tournament

A photograph of the Ben Boeke arena in Anchorage.
The Ben Boeke Ice Arena. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage health officials have identified a cluster of coronavirus infections tied to a recent youth hockey tournament.

The 2020 Termination Dust Invitational drew more than 300 players, coaches and fans to arenas in the city in early October, said an alert Friday from the Anchorage Health Department. They came from the municipality itself, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Kenai Peninsula and as far away as Juneau.

The city health department is now urging the attendees to stay home, except to get tested for the coronavirus. The alert came as the municipality experiences a surge of infections.

“Our pandemic continues without a clear end in sight,” said Dr. Bruce Chandler, the health department’s chief medical officer. “COVID remains widespread in Anchorage, our case numbers are increasing, kids can’t return to school. This is a very stressful time for many people.”

It’s unclear how many COVID-19 cases are linked to the hockey tournament so far. Heather Harris, the director of the city health department, said she didn’t have a firm number by Friday afternoon, but said, “there are significant numbers potentially associated around the tournament or within the hockey community.”

The tournament was held Oct. 2 to Oct. 4 at the Ben Boeke and Dempsey Anderson arenas, according to the department.

“Contact investigations indicate significant close contact in indoor spaces, including locker rooms, with inconsistent use of face coverings,” it said.

Harris said it appeared the Anchorage Hockey Association did develop a COVID-19 mitigation plan before the October tournament.

“They did maintain a contact log of everyone that was participating in the tournament as well,” she said.

She added: “I can’t speak to how well those, the masking guidelines and things like that, were adhered to at all times during that tournament.”

Theresa Austin, president of the Anchorage Hockey Association, said in a phone interview that the group took precautions during the tournament.

She said it had a mitigation plan for operations at the arenas that was based on CDC guidelines for indoor sports activities and that city officials had approved.

The plan included recommending temperature checks at home, requiring masks at entry, limiting entry into the facility and asking players to dress at home to avoid locker room contact, she said. And, she said, that upon hearing of the first positive test on Monday, the group immediately shut down all operations for 14 days.

Austin also said that while a total of about 300 people attended the event, there were far fewer at each arena at one time. Teams have no more than 20 people on a bench at once, and each player was allowed to have two parents in attendance, she said.

“These are our kids and our families and so we take this very seriously,” she said.

Harris said the city is in the process of tracing the close contacts of people tied to the event who have tested positive. She said the hockey association is cooperating with the effort.

The city said all tournament attendees without symptoms must quarantine at home for 14 days except to get tested. Those with COVID-19 symptoms must isolate from others at home for 10 days, with the same testing exception.

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