Martin Harding got an unpleasant surprise before Thanksgiving weekend.
Despite being fully vaccinated, he became ill and tested positive for COVID-19 the week before Thanksgiving, scuttling family gathering plans. He was one of the cases associated with an October outbreak for the Midas Hockey League, a 3-on-3 league for men aged 50 and older operating out of the National Training Rinks in Newmarket that has players from across York Region and the surrounding area.
The outbreak has infected at least 15 people, according to organizers, and resulted in the Oct. 21 death of Oro-Medonte resident Garry Weston.
On Facebook, daughter Krista Weston posted about the loss of Garry Weston.
"Garry had a severe stroke while fighting the pneumonia caused by COVID. He is leaving an enormous hole in our family and our community of friends that feels impossible to ever fill. Even through our grief and sorrow we know how lucky we were to have such a special person in our lives. He will live on in our memories and in your memories."
League organizer Wendell Harrison said he knew Weston well.
“It’s terrible. We lost a friend that we had known for 40 years,” Harrison said.
Harrison said the spread likely started on their first night on the ice Sept. 27, but players did not report feeling sick until after they played Oct. 4, when positive cases started coming in. He confirmed 15 cases are associated, with one leading to hospitalization and death.
He said masking would not occur all the time in locker rooms, such as when taking showers. Shower usage is allowed under Newmarket Training Rinks and York Region Public Health policies.
York Region Public Health could not be reached for comment prior to publication deadline, but National Training Rinks confirmed the outbreak, which general manager Andrew Shorkey said they were informed of about Oct. 8.
Shorkey said anyone entering the facility must provide proof of vaccination, except those aged under 12 and those under 18 who are participating on the ice. Masks are mandated everywhere except on the ice, and locker rooms usage is staggered to allow time for cleaning.
Harding said he is still feeling some lingering effects from the virus, including a lack of energy. He and his family are still seeking answers about how it could have happened.
Shorkey says he is upset he did not find out about cases until Oct. 8, when transmission may have started after the league’s games Sept. 27.
“Had we known early, we would have cancelled their skates earlier,” Shorkey said. “No one should be blamed for it, it’s just a really terrible situation.”
Shorkey added that the public health unit has vetted their protocols and has not found any issues with them. He said the rink has not had any other COVID-19 cases associated with it beyond the outbreak with the men's league.
As for masking, Shorkey said it is not something they can enforce in locker rooms.
Harding said there were about six players spaced out in the locker room when he got changed Oct. 4, but they did not wear masks while getting ready.
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor commented on the outbreak at a York Region council meeting this morning, Oct. 28.
“My condolences to the family of the deceased, and all the friends of the league there,” Taylor said, adding he has visited the rink previously. “My impression was they had very, very strict screening going on."
Taylor asked about the number of vaccinated versus unvaccinated COVID-19 cases in the region, which currently has 166 active cases.
York Region public health data indicates that as of Oct. 27, 54.2 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in the 12+ population are vaccinated. That figure excludes child cases, with those under 12 not eligible for a vaccine.
Public health has told NewmarketToday that this trend is skewed by that fact vaccinated residents significantly outnumber unvaccinated ones, with 84.7 per cent of 12+ residents fully vaccinated.
“The public is largely under the impression that if they are double vaccinated, you’re good to go,” Taylor said. “That’s not entirely true, but people are feeling they are safe.”
Still, acting medical officer of health Dr. Richard Gould said less than one per cent of vaccinated individuals become cases, and vaccinated cases are far less likely to result in hospitalization or death.
The league is back on the ice now after shutting down for two weeks, but Harrison said they are being cautious.
“Being aware that this COVID can attack anybody,” Harrison said. “You can wear a mask, and you can do all those things, but somehow, it still spreads.”