Critical care doctors plead with Oilers, Flames to lower arena capacity limits

·3 min read

Critical care and infectious disease doctors across Alberta are calling on the province's two NHL teams to drop their plans of playing in front of full-capacity crowds amid a brutal and relentless fourth wave of COVID-19.

As the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers prepare to open the 2021-22 NHL season with 100% fan capacity for games, Alberta has been asking Canada's federal government for assistance in airlifting some of its most critical patients to hospitals in other provinces.

Alberta Health Services claims that the province is facing the most dire health-care crisis in its history as Alberta hospitals have cancelled thousands of surgeries to deal with the flood of severe COVID-19 patients, most of whom are unvaccinated. Doctors in the province have started planning for the now-realistic possibility of having to choose which adults (and even children) get to receive care as hospital beds quickly fill up.

"Things are so desperate," said infectious disease doctor Ilan Schwartz in an interview with TSN. "In all of Alberta we have 340 ICU beds. We are literally 10 patients away from having to start choosing who gets treatment and who does not."

As Alberta struggles through a fourth wave of COVID-19, doctors and specialists are begging the province's two NHL clubs to not fill their rinks with fans. (Getty)
As Alberta struggles through a fourth wave of COVID-19, doctors and specialists are begging the province's two NHL clubs to not fill their rinks with fans. (Getty)

According to TSN's Rick Westhead, of the 14 infectious disease and critical care doctors they interviewed about this, every one of them said the Oilers and Flames should cut back the number of fans allowed to attend games.

"It’s jarring that we are asking other provinces to take our patients and at the same time having full hockey arenas that will lead to further spread of COVID-19," said Edmonton critical care doctor Noel Gibney.

To many doctors, even the thought of regularly filling giant hockey arenas with 18,000-plus people as the province's health care system hangs by a thread is rightfully an absurd one.

"It's reckless, and irresponsible for our province, as well as the Oilers and Flames, to be acting like nothing is going on, like our health-care system is normal," Dr. Shazma Mithani, an Edmonton emergency room doctor told TSN.

"It’s ridiculous you can go to an Oilers game and drink a beer shoulder-to-shoulder with someone else and yell when McDavid scores a goal, sending droplets everywhere, while our hospitals are bursting at the seams."

In a statement to TSN, the Oilers say they plan to "insist" that fans provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 to be allowed inside Rogers Place, while Flames GM Brad Treliving told TSN that all fans must be fully vaccinated to enter the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Dr. Gibney, who has decades of ICU experience, doesn't feel those easily editable PDF cards will do a whole lot to prevent the unvaccinated from gaining entry to Alberta's NHL arenas.

"It’s so incredibly easy to forge it’s almost worthless,” he told TSN.

For an infectious disease specialist at Western University in London, Ont., it comes down to the organizations themselves and their moral, societal responsibilities.

"[The Oilers and Flames] have to be good citizens. They're supposed to be playing for the pride of the city, not helping the city go down the drain... The message the NHL is sending is, 'It's okay that you can't get your cancer surgery, but it's not okay if fans miss a game that they can watch at home on TV. That's just too much to ask.'"

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