CDC: Tampa Bay recreational hockey game became coronavirus ‘superspreader’

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — From power play to superspreader! A Tampa Bay area recreational hockey game is to blame for sparking a COVID-19 outbreak, according to a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control.

Infectious disease experts define a “superspreader” event as an infection where a minority of people are responsible for a large proportion of new infections. In this case, the report describes an adult male hockey player infecting at least 14 other people during a game on Tuesday, June 16.

According to the report, co-authored by Hillsborough and Pinellas public health officials, each team had 11 players that night. The “superspreader” went to the game contagious but not symptomatic.

By the next day, the “superspreader” began experiencing symptoms. The coronavirus test he took June 19 came back positive.

Within four days of the hockey game, which consisted of all men ages 19-53 per the report, eight of the patient’s teammates and five players on the opposing team became symptomatic. An employee at the rink did too.

The report does not specify in which county the outbreak occurred. The Florida Department of Health would not clarify, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough office telling 8 On Your Side he cannot comment on epidemiological investigations.

TGH Iceplex in Brandon and Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar and Clearwater all offer adult league games on Tuesday nights. As of this writing, none had replied to 8 On Your Side’s requests for comment.

According to Dr. Tom Unnasch at the University of South Florida, “superspreader events” likely happen much more than we realize or publicize. By definition, a “superspreader” is typically defined as someone who has infected five or more people.

However, without more thorough and effective contact tracing, Unnasch says Florida and the United States can’t fully connect the dots.

“In order to find something you have to look for it,” Unnasch said. “So we can’t really say what makes a superspreader at this point.”

Unnasch adds that researchers believe both individuals and environments contribute to superspreader events. Some people studied have shown to carry anywhere from 50-1,000 times more virus in their system than most patients.

A hockey game would be a susceptible environment, he said, as a close contact sport with heavy breathing in an enclosed space. The cold temperature would also help the virus to survive.

Superspreader events associated with recreational and youth ice hockey have also been documented recently in other states including Alaska and New Jersey.

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