It’s still not clear how many people have tested positive for COVID-19 following an Anchorage youth hockey tournament in early October that led to what officials described as a cluster of infections.
But the Termination Dust Invitational is already having far-reaching consequences due to public health recommendations that attendees go into a 14-day quarantine to make sure they don’t spread the virus that’s surging in Anchorage and other communities through pathways including social gatherings and sports.
If followed, that recommendation could add up to one of the state’s largest quarantines since summer outbreaks in the seafood industry confined hundreds of workers to remote plants or hotel rooms in Anchorage.
Over three days between Oct. 2 and Oct. 4, more than 300 people — students, coaches, staff, family members — from Anchorage, Eagle River, Chugiak, Wasilla, Palmer, Kenai, Soldotna, Fairbanks and Juneau attended the event at the Ben Boeke and Dempsey Anderson arenas in Anchorage.
The president of the Anchorage Hockey Association, which held the tournament, didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday. The organization maintains it followed all the proper protocols, though social distancing was difficult to enforce.
The Anchorage Health Department on Friday issued a warning: anyone testing positive for the virus should isolate away from family members for 10 days.
A department spokesman on Monday said a specific count on the number of confirmed positives in people attending the tournament wasn’t available.
More broadly, however, the municipality recommended anyone else who attended should quarantine for two weeks.
That means no school until next Monday for school districts with students or staff who participated in the tournament if they follow the quarantine recommendations.
Mat-Su, which considers itself one of the largest school districts on the West Coast to offer in-person learning, sent out a letter Sunday warning students and teachers to quarantine if they attended so schools can remain open.
District officials on Monday couldn’t say exactly how many, but some staff and students at multiple schools have voluntarily self-isolated.
The district had building closures last week “that were directly connected” to people attending the tournament, according to district spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey. Colony High School near Palmer closed briefly last week.
A Fairbanks district spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment about tournament-related quarantines.
Catholic Schools of Fairbanks had several players from different teams who played in the tournament, according to safety liaison Lorna Illingworth. They will return to school next Monday. No staff members were involved.
A Juneau team participated that included high school players, according to Kristin Bartlett, spokeswoman for the Juneau School District. It appears that only a “small number of students” were involved. The Juneau Douglas Ice Association temporarily suspended activities last weekend.
“Friday, Saturday and Sunday there was no hockey in Juneau,” Bartlett said, adding the association is working with public-health officials on a reopening schedule. “We do have a pretty tight hockey community here in Juneau. Even though it was just one team that traveled, the coaches, staff and players do have family members. A lot play hockey.”
Statewide, the Alaska State Activities Association has decided to delay the start of high school hockey until Oct. 26. The season was supposed to start Wednesday.
The recommendation is rippling across not only sports and schools but jobs for adults who attended or participated, officials say.
School officials on the Kenai Peninsula received some pushback after posting a statement Friday on social media that anyone who participated in the tournament would need to quarantine.
District spokeswoman Pegge Erkeneff described the response as people asking, “How come you’re making this rash decision?”
“Part of the communication I gave back was this isn’t a decision the district is making,” Erkeneff said Monday. “We’re following the guidelines from public health. That helped a little bit.”
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is assisting with contact tracing. A department spokesman referred any questions about the quarantine recommendation to the Anchorage Health Department.
The health department provided no additional information Monday.
The tournament cluster is rippling into teams already struggling with numerous COVID-19 delays including one in Homer where the entire football program is in quarantine after two coaches tested positive, according to Erkeneff.
Eagle River High School’s football season ended Friday following a party Oct. 3 that resulted in positive cases. The district also stood down all sports programs at the high school through the weekend. On Monday, a letter that went out to Eagle River families announced riflery and swim/dive teams were to remain suspended “pending further test results”.
Allowed to return: C team football; flag football; debate, drama and forensics; bowling; and gymnastics.
The Anchorage School District last week reported that 14 teams were undergoing 14-day quarantine periods due to potential virus exposure from a teammate or coach. The district also issued a two-week stop to high school volleyball after multiple teams at a handful of schools reported COVID-19 illness, related symptoms or exposure.