Manitoba is extending its provincewide code red pandemic restrictions for another two weeks, meaning all restrictions will remain in place until Jan. 22.
Well, almost all.
Despite a government release Friday indicating test positivity rates and hospitalizations remain high, the health orders have been tweaked to allow exemptions for "professional hockey." While the definition was in broad terms, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said that designation only pertains to the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.
"We’ve reviewed the protocol as well from the AHL and so we don’t have a specific comment on that at this point. As of right now with these orders this is only going to pertain to the NHL," Roussin said during Friday’s media conference. "There aren’t any other things planned but we’re always reviewing those protocols and we’ll have more to say on that."
The province’s decision to exempt the Jets aligns with the rest of the Canadian NHL teams that worked with local governments to allow for teams to practise and play in their own arenas. Roussin said this isn’t giving the Jets a free pass and though he understands some might be frustrated, comparing the NHL with amateur sports doesn’t do the NHL justice with how strong their protocols are.
"People are frustrated right now. Somebody who is a small business owner is frustrated. Somebody who wants to go visit their parents is frustrated. And, likewise, children who want to get back to their favourite recreation are frustrated," Roussin said. "We have to really see the difference and I don’t think it’s that difficult to see a difference when you look at an organization such as the NHL and the protocols they can have in place, the daily testing that they have in place, that these players do this for a living. So I think the difference is quite clear, comparing what the NHL could do to an eight-year-old recreational hockey league."
He added: "Nonetheless, it’s a frustrating time. We’ve said it time and time again these are challenging times but the NHL put a proposal forward that really had such robust protocols, that really had such a minimal risk to Canadians that we felt the benefit of getting back to seeing some sort of normalcy during this stage was outweighing the quite minimal risk to the population."
It was announced early Friday that the Dallas Stars had closed their facilities after six players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The Jets aren’t affected by the outbreak, as Winnipeg is part of an all-Canadian division and won’t have to cross the U.S. border to play during the 2021 regular season.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice spoke about his appreciation for the Jets being able to play at Bell MTS Place.
"I know that, in the room, coaches and players are really, really appreciative of the opportunity to come back to work. It’s not everybody that gets that chance right now. I get a little bit of the behind the scenes as to how much work went into that, not just the Winnipeg Jets, but the province of Manitoba and how serious I think people took the situation right from the start in Manitoba," Maurice said.
"Those of us that lived here, straight through this time, tried to adhere to that as best as possible. Then I see what the NHL has done and what our organization has done to make sure we’re doing the best we can to stay safe and keep our players safe and keep the community safe and be a part of that. The testing and all the protocol that we go through, it’s not a hardship, it’s something we’re very appreciative of and very aware that not everybody gets that chance. So it’s as good as it can be, possibly, in a difficult situation."
The Jets’ first game at home is set for Jan. 14 against the Calgary Flames.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.