Fans packed the Scotiabank Arena on Saturday to watch the Maple Leafs, and then again on Monday to cheer on the Raptors.
And as tens of thousands of people gathered for the two games, daily COVID-19 case counts in Toronto and across the province rose rapidly, with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
The surge in cases has prompted some experts to call for crowd restrictions at professional sporting events in Ontario, with one suggesting capacity limits and the elimination of concession stands. Others said fans shouldn’t be in the stands at all.
Amid these calls, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer for health, said his team was reviewing its policy. The review will be presented to Doug Ford’s provincial government for options. Moore said he expected more news to be announced later this week, while urging older people and immunosuppressed people to avoid mass gatherings.
The provincial health ministry did not respond to the Star’s request for comment on Tuesday.
Ontario absolutely needs to tighten capacity limits “relatively drastically” in places where there are large crowds and where people don’t wear masks consistently or adequately, said Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of the Ontario Independent Volunteer Scientific Board.
Concession stands must also be closed, Jüni said, so people must wear their masks during their visit, without interruptions for eating or drinking.
“The point is that people who are fully vaccinated, if their second dose of the vaccine is more than three months ago, they will be almost as likely to get infected as people who are not vaccinated,” Jüni said. “The difference is that they will most likely continue to be relatively well protected against hospitalizations and ICU admissions, but now they will contribute to the drivetrain and we need to be aware of that.”
Verifying vaccine certificates and deploying COVID-19 booster vaccines as quickly as possible is not enough to protect against Omicron, said Jüni, who also called for capacity restrictions in restaurants, bars and clubs. Ventilation should be optimal and overcrowding in public settings should be avoided, Jüni said.
“The total capacity is not compatible, in the situation in which we find ourselves, to keep the most closed spaces safe, such as bathrooms, corridors, etc.”, said Jüni.
Others, like Dr. Andrew Morris, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto and a member of the science board, feel that Ontario pushed the limits of ability when it comes to sports.
“Professional sports should unfortunately compete without fans,” Morris wrote in an email to the Star.
Morris said Ontario needs to slow down the transmission of Omicron to allow more booster doses to reach the arms, because, according to the best evidence currently available, a third dose of vaccine “substantially” reduces the risk of symptomatic disease.
Given the current COVID-19 situation in the province, he said, and until the scientific community has a better understanding of the severity of the disease in cases caused by the variant, as well as the type of stress that Omicron will put on medical care. As a system, professional sports in Ontario must be played behind closed doors.
A spokesperson for Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, parent company of Raptors and Leafs, said it continues to consult closely with all levels of government and public health officials to “proactively determine any action, including the potential timing of those actions, that could be necessary to protect the environment in place for all attendees and the community at large in the coming weeks and months. ”
Fans at the Scotiabank Arena with questions or concerns about the venue’s mask policy are encouraged to speak with an usher or use the in-stadium texting program that provides instant access to fan services staff from anywhere building site, the MLSE spokesman said.
Fans at the Raptors game against the Washington Wizards on December 5 were asked last week to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, after several cases were linked to a charity event hosted by the president of Toronto, Masai Ujiri, which included a stop, for some attendees. , in the game.
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