On Nov. 18, the Ottawa Senators cancelled three of their upcoming matches after a surge of positive cases struck several of its team members, despite the team being fully vaccinated.
The cancellation of the Senators’ games is one of the largest obstructions to professional sport since vaccinations were made available and it’s the first time a North American pro sports league has cancelled games due to the pandemic.
In a statement, an Ottawa Senator spokesperson said, “The health and safety of the local community, the venue’s patrons and the organization’s staff and players is Senators Sports & Entertainment’s highest priority.”
Ottawa Senators hit the bench
The National Hockey League (NHL) made the announcement on Nov. 17 regarding the Senators’ suspension of its season. Games have been suspended until at least Nov. 20, due to 40 percent of the team testing positive for COVID-19. Ten players and one coach have been identified as testing positive for the disease.
The NHL team was unable to face off against the Nashville Predators, and have postponed another match against the New Jersey Devils to Monday, Dec. 6.
Although the team has been fully vaccinated, it has not disclosed which vaccinations they took. The confirmation of their positive cases has demonstrated how the virus can still transmit even to the vaccinated, especially in “poor ventilated places [where people] get up in each other’s bare faces,” the The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.
Issac Bogoch, a specialist from the University of Toronto and a consultant for the NHL Player’s Association said, “The vaccines are extremely effective at reducing the risk of transmission, but they’re not perfect. If people are playing a sport like hockey, for a considerable period of time, where there is close physical contact, and they’re playing inside, without masks, there is a good risk of transmission.”
The NHL proudly declared a 98 to 99% vaccination rate – a total of 25 teams fully vaccinated – on opening day. Even then, epidemiologists were not surprised by the infections, having warned that the virus could still affect the vaccinated. Hockey games cannot be played with social distancing and masks, and would thus risk players being infected.
The Pittsburgh Penguins also suffered from an outbreak in early November, putting centre Sidney Crosby on the sidelines for 10 days after testing positive.
Bogoch also said that the NHL has done “a good job” with the vaccination efforts and risk reductions.
“It’s not unheard of and not surprising that we are seeing some outbreaks. The vaccines are keeping a lot of it under control.”
Recovering from the fall
According to SportsNet Canada, the remaining players for the Senators are “physically and mentally exhausted.” There is hope that the pausing of the games will help more than just the affected players.
“You’re almost crossing your fingers every single day hoping that you get through with a negative (test),” said veteran defenceman Michael Del Zotto. “It is a learning experience, with the different tests we’re doing, and trying to keep everyone safe, not just the players but their families and staff as well. It’s a great opportunity for guys to learn the mental side of the game.”
Since the cases came to light, the team has cancelled practice sessions while making adjustments to their dressing room to accommodate physical distancing. Some of the members were also moved into hotels to ensure their families are safe.
The Senators lost seven of its games in November, and are placed last in the Atlantic Division with 4 wins, 10 loses and 1 draw so far this season.