July 15, 2024

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Everything to know about London-area’s new youth sports vaccine rules

Everything to know about London-area’s new youth sports vaccine rules

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Three area health units – Middlesex-London, Huron Perth and Southwestern (Oxford and Elgin counties) – have joined forces to close a loophole in provincial vaccination regulations that allows kids aged 12 to 17 to take part in organized sports at arenas and other indoor facilities without showing proof of vaccination. The trio of medical officers of health is sending letters of instruction to arenas and other facilities where sports are played indoors with the new requirement that everyone aged 12 and older must show proof they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Reporter Dan Brown has the details from the joint announcement Wednesday.

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The change

Currently, the provincial proof of vaccination system that went into effect Sept. 22 exempts children aged 12 to 17 from having to show proof of vaccination to play organized sports indoors at arenas, recreation centres and community centres. The letters from the health units say owners and operators of these facilities, whether they are public or private, must get proof of vaccination as of Oct. 31 from those aged 12 or older who participate in organized sports like hockey, basketball and martial arts – “all those facilities that house those types of physical activity,” said Joyce Lock, medical officer of health for Elgin and Oxford counties.

The rationale

“Sports activities by their nature create additional opportunities for the COVID virus to spread,” said Chris Mackie, medical officer of health for Middlesex-London, in explaining the reason for the shift. “You’ve got increased respiration and metabolic activity,” which means players are at an increased risk of inhaling and exhaling the virus indoors, he said, adding there are “many examples” of COVID outbreaks associated with sports. During the presentation Wednesday, Mackie used a slide from a hockey tournament in Peel Region to show how quickly the virus can be spread. “It doesn’t take much” for the coronavirus to move from player to player, said Lock, especially in settings such as tournaments where multiple families from different communities gather.

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Who the change affects

The requirement isn’t just for players. It also covers anyone in the 12 to 17 age bracket who is a coach, official, volunteer and spectator at these facilities. Mackie said in his jurisdiction alone there would thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people who would be affected. “However, the vast majority of those folks are already vaccinated,” he said. “The vast majority are already prepared for this.” There was no estimate of how many people would be affected by the change. “Many of these people and organizations have already taken these steps,” said Miriam Klassen, medical officer of health for Huron and Perth counties.

What if facilities don’t comply?

A letter of instruction is simply a way for a medical officer of health to extend a regulation from the provincial Reopening Ontario Act to address local conditions. Mackie said the legislation allows for penalties starting at $750 for individuals and $1,000 for corporations, and grows from there. However, he doesn’t think it will come to that. “I don’t anticipate going into any of those extreme amounts,” he said Wednesday. “The idea is to start with education,” Klassen said.

Who else is doing it

Southwestern Ontario is not the only region where the gap is being addressed. Health units in Windsor-Essex and York Region have announced plans to revoke the exemption. Medical officers covering seven northern Ontario health units are also requiring vaccination for coaches, officials and volunteers aged 12 and older at places that host indoor organized sports.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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