Keep Indoor Ice Rinks Open In Anne Arundel County
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Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is of utmost importance for our community. The most recent round of restrictions in Anne Arundel County includes the closing of indoor ice rinks and the suspension of all organized sports play or practice. We believe that indoor ice arenas have been incorrectly classified as entertainment venues when their activities and purpose are more closing aligned with those of indoor fitness centers. We also believe that further consideration should be given to the negative physical and mental health impacts of suspending youth sports, especially when those activities have not proven to increase the spread of the COVID-19.
The Junior Black Bears youth hockey program operates out of Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, MD. The program serves nearly 300 families with players ranging in age from 4-18 years. It provides opportunities for beginners all the way through competitive, team play. The program provides an opportunity for physical exercise but also acts as the primary social outlet for a number of youths. Even before the pandemic, hockey served as the primary means for many kids, especially those with special needs and those with environmental allergies, to engage in physical activity and connect with the peers and caring adults in a meaningful way. With schools remaining closed and most activities for youth being limited or eliminated, youth hockey has become even more essential for many young athletes. While adults are still able to meet their exercise needs at indoor fitness centers and find entertainment at local casinos, kids now find themselves out of school, out of sports and with almost no opportunity for social interaction.
- Medical professionals agree that physical activity improves general health, boosts immunity and even has a significant impact on mental health.
- Hockey provides rigorous exercise in a controlled environment while allowing kids to form and maintain important social bonds with peers and adults.
- While the long-term impacts of COVID-19 are still uncertain, the impacts of lack of socialization and physical activity are clear and concerning.
Piney Orchard Ice Arena has a maximum capacity of approximately 1200. The current policy allows only registered players, coaches, officials and staff in the facility during the week and on weekends allows the addition of one parent per skater/player to enter as spectators. This policy keeps the total number of persons inside the buildings, even at peak times, well below 25% of capacity. In addition, Piney Orchard Ice Arena has put in place strict protocols to reduce risk including but not limited to:
- temperature screenings,
- eliminating the use of locker rooms,
- markings for proper social distancing,
- enhanced cleaning procedures,
- mandatory use of masks while on the property both inside the facility and in the parking lots (with the exception of youth players while engaged in on-ice activity),
- designated entry and exits points to limit congestion and decrease contact among various groups; and
- strict limitations on the total number of persons in the building as well as on the number of spectators.
The PVAHA and CBHL (local youth hockey governing bodies) have issued supportive guidance including but not limited to:
- requirements for immediate reporting of illness and/or positive COVID-19 tests,
- contact tracing and notification procedures,
- quarantine guidance that aligns with the recommendations of the CDC,
- mask requirements for coaches, officials and spectators as well as for players entering and leaving the facility,
- eliminating the use of locker rooms and penalty boxes; and
- encouraging social distancing on the benches and during practice
The Jr Black Bears program has taken these recommendations and procedures very seriously, often going above and beyond what is being suggested or required in order to protect the health and wellbeing of our players, coaches, families and community. The club has a designated COVID coordinator that works closely with league officials, medical advisors, and state and local health authorities to continuously monitor and assess not only infections and close-contact exposures, but also to review the ever-changing policies and best practices and to ensure that our club remains fully compliant. Additionally, each team has a designated COVID contact to support contact tracing and ensure communication regarding possible exposure and/or changes in policy.
The good news is that while the procedures are often cumbersome, they are working! While there have been isolated cases of players or family members becoming ill with the COVID-19 virus, those cases have been properly reported, the affected persons and teams quarantined, and to date there has been ZERO spread of the virus between players, coaches and staff—ZERO spread.
Piney Orchard Ice Arena is privately owned and took a large financial hit when it was forced to close in the spring. Rink employees had to be furloughed and either look for employment elsewhere or seek government assistance. Another closure will cause a similar effect but without the additional financial support from expired or expiring government assistance programs
Again, there have been no known spread of the COVID-19 virus among any programs operating out of Piney Orchard Ice Arena including the both the Jr Black Bears and Navy youth hockey programs. Further, there has been no known spread within the entire PVAHA or CBHL. We therefore respectfully request that you lift the restrictions requiring the closure of indoor hockey rinks and the suspension of youth hockey. Our club administrators including our COVID-19 coordinator would welcome the opportunity to explore intermediate measures short of closing the rink that would both protect county residents and keep the best interest of our young athletes at heart.
The Jr Black Bears staff, players, coaches, volunteers and parents
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