A group of more than 20 Winnipeg junior hockey players and coaches took to the ice Monday night in Warren — in contravention of Manitoba public health orders.
The practice at the rink some 40 kilometres northwest of the capital was booked under Laker Hockey Academy — a local instructional program run by Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service firefighter Larry Woo.
Amid a rise in COVID-19 cases among first responders — and a large public spike in positive tests provincewide — WFPS Chief John Lane declined Friday to comment specifically about the Nov. 9 incident, adding: "What people do in their off-duty time is really their business."
Asked whether he was concerned first responders could be contravening public health orders, Lane said the WFPS has made an effort to encourage members to obey pandemic precautions both on- and off-duty for the safety of colleagues and the public.
Between Sept. 8 and Nov. 11, 27 members of the service tested positive for COVID-19, with no positive cases recorded prior, the WFPS said.
According to Lane, there were eight active cases of COVID-19 among service members, with a further 15 self-isolating either because they or family members have shown symptoms.
All of those infections, Lane said, have come from members’ off-duty activities.
"Certainly, as far as we can tell, none of these have arisen from any patient exposure and... as far as we’re aware, none of them have arisen from any workplace exposure," the fire chief said in an interview Friday.
"The cases that we’ve had in the workplace have all been from social contact, so all of those contacts could be seen in an equal light, as far as their off-duty activity goes," Lane said.
"We do our best to counsel them, but they are free to live their lives in their off-duty time as they see fit, and we certainly hope that people will comply with the public health direction."
Woo — who is listed as a WFPS lieutenant on the City of Winnipeg’s 2019 compensation disclosure list — could not be reached for comment Friday.
While concerned new cases have become a "regular occurrence," Lane said he is relieved WFPS members have been "very diligent" in reporting symptoms and staying home when sick.
Meanwhile, new cases of COVID-19 have cropped up among the city’s other first responder groups.
In the Winnipeg Police Service, a total of 22 civilian and sworn members have contracted COVID-19 since February, a WPS representative said in an email Thursday. Ten have returned to work; 12 are still isolating.
"The Winnipeg Police Service has implemented numerous safety precautions, including physical barriers, increased handwashing stations, and requiring that officers wear masks when interacting with the public and other members outside their respective units, when possible," WPS said.
Video circulating on social media Thursday night depicted officers interacting with the public without face masks. The WPS did not respond to Free Press comments about mask exemptions for on-duty officers by publication time Friday.
In the RCMP, one member has tested positive, while eight are in self-isolation awaiting test results, officials said.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.