‘Cohort quarantine’ gives NHLers a COVID-19 pass

The Winnipeg Jets are still a long way from touching down in the city for training camp, even though the Canadian government altered its quarantine rules for the NHL on Friday.

The feds approved the league’s proposal of a ‘cohort quarantine’ approach for players entering Canada, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed. The cohort quarantine, which keeps players separate from the general public, would allow the NHL to bypass the traditional 14-day quarantine for anyone entering Canada.

But officials say that only applies to three potential hub cities — Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver — and doesn’t mean players in Winnipeg, Calgary and Montreal can return without a two-week quarantine.

The Jets had no comment on the situation Friday.

It’s believed the feds are still working on a solution to allow Canadian playoff teams to hold training camps with their full rosters north of the border, but as of Friday only the yet-to-be-named successful hub candidate has received that clearance.

The NHL is in Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol (as of June 8), which permitted teams to reopen their doors to players for individual on- and off-ice training sessions on a voluntary basis. A maximum of six players can be present at any time.

Late last week, the NHL and NHL Players Association sent out identical statements announcing the 24 teams in the playoff mix could begin training July 10, “provided that medical and safety conditions allow and that the parties have reached an overall agreement on resuming play.”

However, a growing number of positive cases could force the league to rethink those plans. On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Lightning closed their facilities after three players and additional staff tested positive for the coronavirus.

The playoff-bound Jets had been facing quarantine issues on two fronts, provincially and federally, amidst the national health crisis Premier Brian Pallister removed one hurdle, stating that as of this Sunday pro athletes returning to Manitoba won’t have to quarantine for 14 days if they have already self-isolated for two weeks at home.

Meanwhile, Canada’s deputy prime minister said the cohort quarantine would involve regular screening. It would be crucial that the directives of medical officers are closely followed, Freeland added.

When asked what would happen if a player or staff member tests positive, Canada’s chief public health officer said instructions from the specific local health authority must be followed.

“That’s the primary approach. If there was a positive test identification, that is linked to the local public health response,” Dr. Theresa Tam said.

“I think that’s the critical aspect of it. Through the protocol, which is continuously reviewed, the idea is through regular testing to reduce the actual impact of the number of people that would have to be removed from the game itself. I think ultimately the decision has to be based on the public health assessment at the time.”

Winnipeg continues to be one of the safest NHL markets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three new probable cases were reported in the province Friday and there are 11 active cases, raising the provincial total to 311. Seven Manitobans have died from the virus.

Most of the Jets vacated Winnipeg immediately after the NHL suspended regular-season play March 12, and it’s believed just a handful stayed behind but left shortly after the pandemic worsened and it looked like people would be stuck where they were for a long period of time. Some remain in other parts of Canada, while others are in the U.S. and Europe.

The NHL officially cancelled the regular season May 26 when it revealed a playoff format, to be played in two hub cities and in arenas without fans — although no official date has been determined.

Under the proposed playoff format, the Jets will play the Calgary Flames in a best-of-five preliminary-round series.

The three Canadian cities, along with Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis/St. Paul, are in the running to be hub cities.

— with files from Canadian Press

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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