When Gov. Chris Sununu announced that indoor ice rinks would be required to close for two weeks following a spike in COVID-19 cases among New Hampshire hockey players, the operations manager at Keene Ice said it came as a shock.
Bobby Rodrigue said he felt “blindsided” by the news. He noted that as recently as Wednesday, communications from the governor’s office did not indicate there were any immediate plans to close indoor hockey rinks.
“We were told on three separate occasions this week that they were not shutting us down,” Rodrigue said Friday.
During a news conference Thursday afternoon, Sununu said indoor hockey facilities would have to close for two weeks. He said the pause will give rinks an opportunity to clean and sanitize their facilities and also to allow players and their families to get tested for the virus.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a question Friday about when the decision to suspend on-ice activities was made.
State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan said during the news conference that there have been 158 COVID-19 diagnoses connected to ice hockey organizations in the past two months. He said 23 different hockey organizations and teams in the state have been affected, and that groups have had connections to out-of-state organizations.
“So hockey has not only been a high-risk activity for acquiring COVID-19, but the people diagnosed with COVID-19 and associated with hockey ... have likely led to other community exposures,” Chan said, “including exposure in schools, businesses, long-term care facilities and social gatherings.”
But at Keene Ice, Rodrigue said he knows of only one person so far who entered the facility on Marlboro Street and later tested positive for COVID-19, and that was nearly a month ago. That incident was isolated quickly, he said, and no further cases have been reported.
Keene Ice, a nonprofit, caters to a number of hockey teams, including nine youth teams, two college teams and three high school teams, Rodrigue said. He added that dozens of kids also come in to learn to skate and around 200 people participate in adult programming.
Rodrigue said ice rinks typically operate on a tight margin to begin with. The pandemic has already been difficult, he said, since Keene Ice was required to close down under Sununu’s March 26 stay-at-home order, which halted in-person operations for businesses that were deemed non-essential.
But while money is a concern, Rodrigue said he’s more worried about the impact on the hockey players who rely on Keene Ice.
“I think we’re most upset by the way it’s disrupting the lives of young people who come into the building,” he said. “It’s certainly a financial hardship, but the disruption is more important.”