A day after the Anchorage School District announced weekly COVID-19 testing for high school hockey players, state hockey officials say they know of very few positive cases connected to state hockey tournaments last month.
The head of the Alaska State Hockey Association’s COVID-19 committee on Thursday said a total of three positive cases have been reported from multiple state tournaments held around the state in March.
Anna Culley of Fairbanks, the USA Hockey associate registrar in Alaska, said she has yet to receive reports from every state tournament -- there were 17 in all.
Most have reported back, she said, and among those three tournaments reported a single positive test -- one in Palmer, one on the Kenai Peninsula and one in Tok.
“Every tournament that I was aware of, the people followed the (mitigation) policies,” she said. “For the amount of kids we have, if we end up with less than five or 10 cases, I feel like that’s pretty good.”
A total of 7,500 players in Alaska -- youths and adults -- are registered with USA Hockey and the Alaska State Hockey Association. Of those, about 6,000 are youths, Culley said.
ASD on Wednesday said more than 60 students district-wide have recently tested positive for COVID-19 or have been identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive. The majority are close contacts, and the majority are linked to a state hockey tournament in the Valley.
On Thursday, the district said most are tied to a tournament held March 12-14 for high school-aged students. More than one tournament was held that weekend, and ASD spokesman Alan Brown didn’t immediately know which tournament was linked to the ASD cases.
The 60-plus students involved have either gone through a quarantine period or are currently quarantining, the district said.
In an effort to limit the spread of the virus in schools, the school district will begin weekly testing of hockey players, coaches and managers beginning Monday. Anyone whose vaccination is fully effective is exempt from testing.
Louis Imbriani, an Anchorage hockey official who also plays adult league hockey, said officials have not been informed of any positive cases from tournaments last month.
He thinks hockey is being unfairly targeted, something he said goes back to October when Anchorage health officials announced a coronavirus cluster linked to a youth hockey tournament held at two Anchorage rinks
“This has been an attack on the hockey community,” Imbriani said. “This is wrong. If they implemented testing across the board I would think, ‘Well, this sucks. I think it’s unnecessary but at least it’s fair.’ "
Other than wrestlers, who are tested weekly as required by a city mandate, students in other sports haven’t faced testing this school year. Brown said the district hasn’t released sport-by-sport details about COVID cases or close contacts “because of challenges with people being singled out.”
“Hockey has definitely risen to a higher level of attention because of the numbers involved,” he said.
Demetria McGrew of the Valley Thunder hockey association was the tournament director for a U14 state tournament held in the Valley last month. She said she has received no reports of positive COVID-19 tests from any participants, which included 120 players.
“With 120 kids, it’s easy to say there’s 60 potential close contacts -- there could be 120 close contacts,” she said. “The number isn’t surprising to me. It is surprising to me that we’re talking about an organization that has been really well mitigated this season as far as everybody really trying hard to keep these kids active and doing what they love to do and following all the policies.
“I’m going to say there’s definitely people raging against it all 100%. But we have erred on the side of caution since August. … It’s hard to believe that none of us as tournament directors out here have heard that our kids’ tournaments had cases.”
Christine Greco, the manager of Valley Thunder’s U16 team, said there were no reports of positive tests at the U16 or U18 state tournaments held in the Valley. “So how is it happening if no one’s reporting it?” she said.
Brown said ASD typically learns of positive cases and close contacts among students from parents. He said it’s possible parents call the school but not anyone else.
Greco thinks hockey gets the blame even if a player or coach is exposed somewhere other than an ice rink.
“The hard thing is if someone came out and they were staying at a hotel and ate at restaurants,” she said. “How can you even say it’s from hockey (if) they went to a restaurant where no one wears masks when they eat?”
There are no mask mandates in the Valley, but each ice rink there requires masks for anyone who isn’t on the ice, she said. Greco worked the door at a recent state tournament and said players from Anchorage were surprised about the mask requirements.
“But you don’t have those rules,” players said.
“But for you to come into this rink we do, and they all said OK,” Greco said.
Greco said she’s one of four people in her family closely tied to hockey. Her husband plays and coaches, and her sons, ages 13 and 16, both play, and they’re all caretakers for Greco’s 80-year-old mother, who lives nearby. Greco’s mom likes to exercise by walking up and down stairs, and the most convenient place for her to do that is the Palmer Ice Arena.
“She walks in her little bleacher area and wears her mask, and we’ve kept her safe all year long,” Greco said. “It can be during practices or a game, and she does it for half an hour, four or five times a week at the Palmer ice rink.
“So every time we get called a super-spreader, I think of my mother who is 80 years old, and this has been her safe place.”