Sask. waiting to hear back from WHL on health recommendations for potential bubble, Shahab says

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Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer confirmed Tuesday that a proposal for the Western Hockey League to host a bubble in the province is under review.

Last week, CBC News confirmed that the WHL had sent a proposal to the Saskatchewan government about a shortened season in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, confirmed Tuesday that a proposal for a hub city was reviewed and that the province was awaiting confirmation from the WHL on public health recommendations made.

"That model has shown to be successful in a limited fashion across Canada and that same model is being explored by the WHL," said Shahab during a news conference, adding that other major sports leagues have made bubbles work.

"We have given our recommendation to the WHL for a hub approach and we're awaiting their confirmation of the same."

The Saskatchewan government would not provide details Wednesday about the recommendations made.

A WHL spokesperson said Wednesday they are unable to answer questions regarding the public health recommendations and when a decision may be made.

Last month, the WHL received approval from the Alberta government for the five Alberta-based teams to play a 24-game season, but instead of a bubble teams will be travelling.

Players and staff had to self-isolate for a week before reporting to their club Feb. 6. They were swabbed for COVID-19 and started another isolation period. Training camp will start as early as Friday, says a WHL news release.

Once the season starts on Feb. 26, teams will play two games on weekends against the same opponent, in the same home arena. Teams must have a five-day break before they can play a new opponent, the release says.

Players, billets, team staff and officials will be screened daily, and teams will be tested for COVID-19 weekly. The tests will be conducted by DynaLife Medical Labs, a private Canadian diagnostics testing laboratory whose main facility is in Edmonton, Alta., the release says.

Should a player or staff member test positive for COVID-19, that team's "activities" will be suspended for at least 14 days.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Coaches will have to wear masks at all times. Players have to wear masks unless they are on the ice for a game or practice, the release says.

A bubble in Saskatchewan would differ from the approach in Alberta, and look similar to what the NHL executed last summer.

Edmonton and Toronto hosted western and eastern conference teams, respectively. Each NHL team that competed in the bubble could bring a maximum of 52 people, including players, coaches and other staff and personnel, according to Phase 4 of the NHL's return to play plan.

Each bubble included a hotel and its restaurant and facilities (except spas), local practice facilities and the arena. Players had their own hotel rooms and each team had a designated floor, but players could not enter each other's rooms. The league had to approve all transportation. Everyone had to wear a mask outside their room unless they were exercising, playing hockey, eating or drinking. Coaches and officials did not have to wear masks during games.

All facilities, such as dressing rooms and penalty boxes, were disinfected after each game or practice, and at the end of each day. There were also protocols in place to ensure laundry was done safely.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

People in the bubble were screened and tested for COVID-19 each day. Anyone who tested positive would have to immediately self-isolate. They could leave isolation if they showed no symptoms and twice tested negative, or if they spent 10 days in isolation and showed no symptoms for at least 72 hours.

Contact tracing would be done after a positive test result and close contacts would have to be tested.

Players could leave the bubble for certain reasons, such as medical care or the birth of a child, but they would have to quarantine until they had four negative COVID-19 tests in a row over a four-day period.

Anyone who left the bubble without permission could have been kicked out or have to self-isolate for 10 to 14 days. Teams that did not comply with protocols could have been fined or lost draft picks.

There were 33,174 COVID-19 tests performed in the NHL bubbles. Zero came back positive.