LONDON, ONT. -- The Middlesex-London Health Unit has modified new rules announced on Wednesday to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which will allow many sports to continue.

“We want to make sure these sports can continue as much as possible,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie.

Fears were rampant throughout the sports community that the strict safety measures would sideline sports and potentially put some recreation facilities out of business.

“What’s become clear is that we need to tweak them so that we don’t disrupt sport,” Mackie said.

The revisions were shared during a virtual townhall meeting Friday afternoon for sports, recreation and fitness facility stakeholders.

“If we want to stay in a situation where we can continue to have team sports, we need to take action to prevent the spread,” Mackie said.

Among the adjustments to the Section 22 Class Order for Indoor Fitness Facilities, the total number of people permitted in a class at a facility cannot exceed 12. The maximum number of people allowed on a field of play, such as an ice pad or soccer field, is 25. For team sports with substitutions, a maximum of 12 people are allowed on the roster, and player waiting on the sidelines must maintain a two metre distance from one another.

Mackie says no contact is allowed between individuals during any play and that means there will be zero tolerance for any touching.

“When you are that close, you are entering a high-risk situation. It doesn’t matter if that’s a normal part of your sport, there’s no contact.”

Parents, athletes, coaches and owners of numerous sports facilities are expressing some relief.

“It’s definitely a positive move,” said the VP of Hockey Operations for The London Junior Knights, Kevin Gardner.

“We can work with it,” he said.

However, there is still some uncertainty about how the rules will be implemented and how they will play out on the ice. Still, Gardner says he’s pleased that the health unit has listened to the community’s concerns.

“It was a groundswell of all sports in the community that made the change, and the health unit listened, so that’s great.”

The Junior Knights have ice time scheduled for this Saturday and plan to implement the new rules.

“We want to follow the rules. We don’t want anyone to get sick,” said Gardner. But the unexpected changes, with no notice, came as a huge shock.

“That’s what upset everyone.”

Hundreds of stakeholders of indoor sports and recreation facilities, including volleyball, soccer, and gymnastics associations, as well as health clubs and yoga studios, took part in the town hall with health officials answering questions about how the new rules will impact them.

The health unit’s revised restrictions on gyms come after more than 70 people tested positive at a fitness studio in Hamilton. Officials say the studio was following all public health guidelines when the outbreak occurred.

Mackie says the orders are meant to avoid a situation where there are gaps in the rules that result in a superspreader event, like the one that happened in Hamilton.

While while London has not seen a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases like other communities in the province, Mackie says he’s not taking chances.

“We’re not willing to wait until we have cases here before taking measures to prevent a dangerous situation here,” he said.

Here is a look at the modified rules

Adjustment to Section 22 Class Order for Indoor Fitness Facilities:

  1. Total number of people permitted in a class, at the facility cannont exceed 12. An additional 3 staff, referees, an/or instructors are permitted.
  2. Each activity needs a separate room, or if in a large space such as an area, indoor soccer field, or high school gymnasium, separated by a barrier or by a minimum of 3 metres.
  3. The maximum number permitted on a field of play, such as an ice pad is 25 people, inclusive of staff, referees, and/or instructors.
  4. For team sports with substitutions, a maximum of 12 are permitted on the roster. For individuals not actively participating, 2 metres must be maintained between individuals.
  5. Participants not wearing a helmet should wear a face covering when not actively participating in rigorous physical activity.
  6. For individual activities which occur in a fixed location, such as yoga or spin classes, maximize physical distance between each person, with at least 3 metres. These activities must take place in a separate room, and a maximum of 12 participants and 1 instructor is permitted. The instructor must wear a face covering.
  7. Instructors must wear a face covering or provide instruction virtually. They should also not sing or shout, and instead use a microphone if needed. Discourage participants from singing along to music or shouting back to the instructor.
  8. Ensure that the HVAC system is well maintained in line with the Guidance for facilities for sports and recreational fitness activities during COVID-19.
  9. Any steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools, or bathhouses must be closed.

A few other notes:

  • Every person who engages in sports or a recreational fitness activity at the facility, other than a team sport, must maintain a physical distance of at least 2 metres from every other person at all times during the activity.
  • Team sports may only be practiced or played within the facility if they do not allow for physical contact between players or if they have been modified to avoid physical contact between players.
  • Organized team sports that are practiced or played by players in a league may only be practiced or played within the facility if the league either, contain no more than 50 players and does not permit its teams to play against teams outside of the leagues, or
  • Divides its teams into groups of 50 or fewer players and does not permit teams in different groups to play against one another or against teams outside of the league.

The rules go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24.