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Risk-taking should not ignore science

10/09/2020, 12:30pm CDT
By Jack Blatherwick

It is not possible to avoid breathing the exhaled air from teammates when everyone is inhaling-exhaling 8 times the air as at rest. Players should test as they do in professional and college sports.

Kevin Hartzell wrote in Let’s Play Hockey (Aug. 27, 2020) encouraging readers to ‘Let them play.’ Ignore the risk (at all ages, presumably) of getting sick from COVID-19. Why?

Kevin offered three reasons: (1) young people have a very low probability of getting sick, even if they do contract the virus. (2) We are getting too soft as a nation, not taking enough risks. (3) A two-goal lead in a hockey game is worse than a one-goal lead. (Huh???)

I have to admit, this ‘risk’ thing and the connection between two-goal leads and the virus escape my aging brain. I agree that kids can play hockey, but the risk of serious illness should be informed by scientific data. No question, children and young adults are less likely than old folks to suffer illness or death if they contract the virus. However, there have been some bad outcomes from COVID-19 among this young population. A (small) number have suffered organ damage (heart, lungs, liver, brain, etc).

An important fact not mentioned in Kevin’s column is this: children and young adults are good carriers of the virus – just as effective as older people. In a hockey game, players might be inhaling and exhaling eight times as much air as at rest. So, when they sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the players’ box and dressing room, they are ‘super-exposed’ to aerosol virus from others who could be carrying it.

Next, they’d bring it home, or to school and friends. This has already created hot spots around the country. Young people carried it from bars, parties, churches, and teams to ignite a devastating crisis at local hospitals.  Two-hundred thousand people have died so far, if not the young people who partied.  

Consider an analogy to the risk-taking question. Suppose you want to dive off a 30-foot cliff. It’s a little scary, but if you know what’s under the surface of the water you might decide it’s an acceptable risk. However, it’s insanity if you don’t know how deep the water is.

Risk-taking when the downside is unknown or when epidemiologists say it’s unwise – that’s not learning the value of taking risks to be better athletes or more patriotic citizens. That’s dumb. 

When teams play games and encourage known risks, why not make players test for the virus periodically? The NCAA is doing this, as do all the professional leagues. Shouldn’t we expect this leadership from our governing bodies: USA Hockey, MN Hockey, and the High School League? 

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  Jack Blatherwick