Interior Health Authority sports and exercise restrictions imposed on Monday are causing a stir in Kamloops.
Among the restrictions: no competition indoor or outdoor, no spectators permitted indoor and a maximum of 50 spectators permitted outdoor.
The restrictions will remain in place until at least the end of September and Interior Health experiences lower COVID-19 case numbers and higher vaccination rates, according to an IH bulletin published on Friday, Aug. 20.
Kamloops city councillor Mike O'Reilly is among those who have problems with the restrictions, which do not appear to differentiate between adult and youth sports.
"To me, blanket-wide restrictions like that were acceptable a year-and-a-half ago because we didn't have time to figure out specific plans," O'Reilly said. "At this point, we should be able to make more surgical decisions and allow things that can happen in specific areas.
"I'm equally as frustrated as the next person. Parents are getting extremely frustrated and I believe they should be."
B.C. has recorded 698 new cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours.
Of the new cases, 252 are in the Interior Health region, which continues to lead in new cases within the province. Elsewhere, there were 203 new cases in Fraser Health, 129 in Vancouver Coastal Health, 45 in Northern Health and 69 in Island Health.
KTW on Tuesday contacted IHA for comment, but has not received a return phone call.
Sean Smith, business operations and events supervisor for the City of Kamloops, said about 10 tournaments slated to be held in Kamloops before October have been cancelled, including the NSA Canada Slo-Pitch Co-ed World Series, which was scheduled to run from Sept. 2 to Sept. 6 and bring more than 160 teams to the Tournament Capital Ranch.
"Everybody is trying to do the very best they can on short notice, but we totally understand the community's frustration and angst with being told these restrictions on such short notice, which again is par for the course. It's kind of how things have happened for the past year and a half," said Smith, noting the cancelled tournaments were to bring as much as $2 million in visitor spending to the city.
"That being said, with everybody being so optimistic about what the fall was going to look like and getting back to a normal routine, to have new information and guidelines to follow, it's understandable why people are so frustrated and expressing frustration so vocally."
Interior Health published regulations in a bulletin on Friday, but many user groups were unaware of the information, while others were unclear on the content. The second IH document is dated Monday, Aug. 23, but did not make its way to most Kamloops sports organizations until Tuesday evening.
"There was some confusion about 50 or 100 [max outdoor gatherings], but it's definitely 50, which makes it very difficult for the Broncos to operate," Kamloops Broncos' general manager Jan Antons told KTW.
"The other guideline that was clarified — there is no competition allowed, which means no exhibition or league play within Interior Health."
Antons remains unclear on whether his club can travel outside the region to play games without fear of liability blowback.
He is awaiting clarification from viaSport (the province's delivery agency for sport) and the B.C. Provincial Football Association, organizations that are meeting on Wednesday, according to Antons.
"There has been a lot of confusing information," Antons said. "This is way bigger than just football."
The Broncos were scheduled to play four of their eight B.C. Football Conference regular season games in September. One contest — Saturday, Aug. 28, against the Okanagan Sun of Kelowna — has been postponed.
Clearance for the Broncos to travel and play outside of the IH region without fear of liability issues seems pivotal to the completion of a meaningful season.
"It's huge," he said. "We want to play. We're looking at potential neutral sites, travelling to the Lower Mainland, but the one point of concern is there is no clear guideline on if it is OK to travel.
"We don't want to be the team that goes and gets in trouble because something spreads."
The Kamloops Blazers are slated to play three home exhibition games in September. Those cannot happen under current IHA guidelines, according to Smith.
WHL fans can find comfort in the IHA's assertion the guidelines will be reviewed at the end of September, with the Blazers' first regular season home game scheduled for Oct. 9 at Sandman Centre.
Henry also seemed to offer encouragement to Blazers' fans on Monday, when she spoke about the B.C. vaccine card, which will be introduced on Sept. 13.
“There is some discretion of areas of high transmission, and Interior Health is one of them, where we will be having discussions about whether we can put some of these measures in place sooner, rather than later,” Henry said on Monday.
“We may use it as an opportunity to test some of the vaccine card initiatives. We’ve been having some early conversations about that, and that should allow us to have some of these gatherings and events happen more safely in those areas where we already have higher transmission.”
O'Reilly was asked about Henry's statement: "It's pretty hard to plan around vague statements like that. I haven't heard anything different than IHA is going to review it near the end of September."
The Blazers have been contacted for comment. WHL commissioner Ron Robison is scheduled to speak to KTW on Thursday morning.
Count TRU WolfPack athletics director Curtis Atkinson among those who was caught off guard by the no-competition restriction in the IHA guidelines that came into effect on Monday.
The men's and women's WolfPack soccer teams are slated to host home openers on Sept. 10, their first regular-season contests since 2019.
Atkinson said he is not giving up hope on those Canada West matches going ahead, noting one scenario in particular could green-light the contests.
"The IH position would have to change," he said. "The order is for the foreseeable future and it is not looking good, but we have had dialogue with viaSport to get clarity around that from a competition view."
Here is Smith's assessment of the IH guidelines: "We're back to where we were in May and June, where there are no games, competitions or tournaments permitted, but athletes are permitted to practise within their team settings and conduct skills, drills and scrimmages. There are no spectators permitted at indoor venues and a maximum of 50 at outdoor venues. It's tough on the teams and our economy. The alternative is our community just doesn't get past COVID, which is really the most important thing."
Kamloops Youth Soccer Association technical director Ciaran McMahon told KTW on Wednesday morning he is seeking clarification from viaSport and B.C. Soccer on game-play regulations.
"Does competition mean no competitive play or does it mean league and inter-district play?" McMahon said. "As far as we understand, there is no restriction on contact in the training environment, so our kids can still scrimmage and everything like that. If we look at the pattern of where things have been in the past, likely in-club or in-municipality [match play] is OK. Us travelling to Kelowna or Chilliwack coming up here, that might be restricted."
O'Reilly sees disparity that is harming Interior Health.
"This, to me, blanket restrictions, it doesn't make sense that down in Vancouver 12,000 or 13,000 fans can watch a B.C. Lions' game, but spectators are no longer allowed to watch Kamloops Minor Hockey practices in a 12,000 square-foot arena," O'Reilly said. "We've had a year and a half for the Interior Health Authority to figure out ways to allow things to happen or not to happen. It's the very last minute for us. It's a pretty big blow to our business community."