Manchester health officials say the city's COVID-19 testing sites are "maxed out" by hockey players seeking tests, as new cases and hospitalizations continue a steady rise in New Hampshire.
The 7-day average of newly identified COVID-19 cases reached a new peak today, at 105, the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. Hospitalizations are also the highest since May, at 31 people, but are still far below the rates seen in the spring, when more than 100 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on numerous days.
Gov. Chris Sununu last week released new guidelines for hockey and indoor ice arenas after over 150 people connected to the sport tested positive for COVID-19 in two months. Hockey rinks were ordered to close for two weeks and are scheduled to reopen Friday, but over 20,000 players and staff statewide will be required to present a negative test by November 6.
Philip Alexakos, chief operations officer at the Manchester Health Department, said Manchester is continuing to offer testing to residents of the area and those who work there. But he shared concerns with the Manchester Regional Youth Hockey Association about people from outside of greater Manchester who are not ill booking slots at the city’s clinics.
“The New Hampshire Public Health Laboratory has been a tremendous partner with us; but they can only process so many samples without impacting their ability to provide timely results,” Alexakos wrote in a statement. “They began calling our hotline to schedule appointments and now account for the majority of scheduled tests at our clinic today, and have ‘maxed’ out our ability to test anyone in urgent need of testing.”
The Manchester Flames has 500 players and coaches who need to get tested. President Steve Bellemore said the number of people from the greater Manchester area is creating problems with getting players back on the ice.
"It's very difficult in the manner that we're doing it, because if I have a team of 16 players and only half of them are tested, they can't go play now because you can't put eight players out on the ice,” he said.
The hockey league had planned for its own testing clinic on Wednesday, but that offer was rescinded by health officials, who said mobile test sites are only available in the event of an outbreak.
Matt Roy, President of the New Hampshire Amateur Hockey Association, said players have had problems accessing tests in leagues across the entire state.
“The programs that it’s really hurting is the learn-to-skate, learn-to-play, the baseline of players,” he said.
“Parents don’t want to have them tested to bring them once a week to hockey. Without that baseline, this year it’s going to affect the future of our sport.”
The Department of Health and Human Services told NHPR in a statement that hospital-based and National Guard testing sites, including those in the southern part of the state where many hockey players live, have testing capacity and are accepting appointments.
Those seeking a COVID-19 test can visit the state’s list of testing sites here.