BC Provincial Health Officer has concerns with BCHL return-to-play plan


The BC Hockey League didn’t get the answer it wanted during Tuesday’s COVID-19 update from BC Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

When asked by Global BC legislative reporter Richard Zussman about where the BCHL’s proposal stands, Henry didn’t exactly give it a glowing review.

She stated there’s a difference between the BCHL successfully running its 2020-21 training season last fall without any known COVID-19 transmissions and attempting to play games in five community pods around the province now.

“The guidance that we had, the safety plans we had in place prior to November were not adequate in a lot of different scenarios because we saw that this virus (is) transmitted a lot easier during the colder winter months, and we’re still in that period.”

Henry also shed some light on how decisions are made for sports in the province’s six health authorities.

“Back in our restart days in April and May last year, we pulled together a team of public health inspectors, medical health officers, people from WorkSafe (BC), (and) people from viaSport to look at different aspects of reopening. One of those was a key one around sport.”

“They’re the ones that provide advice to me around whether we should accept variances or not to the gatherings and events order. And they do consultation back and forth with the different leagues and provide advice on where the areas of concern (are),” she explained.

Road trips present a concern for health authorities

As it relates to the most recent BCHL proposal, Henry alluded that the idea of teams traveling from community to community for games is what separates it from the approved WHL plan.

“Right now, they are continuing to work with the BCHL and with our regional teams because the (BCHL’s) plan is dispersed around the province in a way that is slightly different than the Western Hockey League, for example.”

“(It) is still in the consultation process and there have been a number of concerns identified – I’ll be blunt about that – that need to be addressed before that can happen safely.”

What those concerns are – beyond the idea of travel around the province – is unknown.

The BC Hockey League has worked with the provincial health authorities since the 2019-20 season was put on pause last spring in an attempt to return to the ice in a safe manner.

In the BCHL’s news release on Feb. 5 about the latest postponement of the 2020-21 season, it mentioned the idea of a pod-based structure where a number of teams are located in one city for a given time period.

“We continue to work closely with the PHO on how we can safely resume play. This includes potential pods in select BCHL cities throughout the province,” stated BCHL commissioner Hebb.

The news came to light on Monday from Global BC’s Jay Janower that the league’s most recent proposal sees the league’s 17 BC-based teams split into five regional pods, with three pods composed of three teams and two made up of four teams.

On Friday, Hebb sent a letter to Henry, Premier John Horgan, and other government officials outlining the urgency of the situation, according to The Breaker.news publisher Bob Mackin.

The letter included a deadline of Wednesday for approval of the BCHL’s return-to-play plan. If it isn’t approved by then, a motion will reportedly be prepared for owners to vote on Thursday to cancel the season.

“I know timing is an issue, and whether those can be worked out or not, I’m not clear,” Henry said this afternoon.