Preseason games begin in Calgary as doctors, health experts continue to warn of capacity impacts

CALGARY –

The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers will kick off their preseason campaigns Sunday, but it’s action outside of the lines that many Albertan eyes are focused on.

Health experts and doctors are continuing to question the lack of capacity limits inside of the Scotiabank Saddledome for the 2021-2022 season.

“It’s ill advised,” infectious disease expert Dr. Lynora Saxinger said. “Definitely too high risk for this time and place.”

Saxinger – and many of her colleagues – are concerned about more than 19,000 fans packing into the arena during a deadly fourth wave that has overwhelmed Alberta’s intensive care units.

A story by TSN’s Rick Westhead mentions more than a dozen infectious disease experts and doctors who are worried about the impact of the upcoming NHL season.

The Flames will be requiring all attendees 12 years old and up to provide proof of vaccination.

Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC), which owns and operates the Calgary Flames, Calgary Stampeders, Calgary Hitmen and Calgary Roughnecks, will utilize Portpass, a made-in-Calgary app to check for immunization records. Users must upload some identification to receive a code to scan for entry.

Fans must also wear face coverings inside the arena when they are not actively eating or drinking.

But even with the restrictions, many experts believe going to a packed sporting event is too high risk – especially considering the provincial health care situation.

“We just can’t afford for things to not go perfectly,” Saxinger said. “There are so many variables.”

“It is completely reckless to be hosting hockey games with 100 per cent capacity with 18,500 fans in a closed environment where we know that transmission flourishes,” Dr. Ilan Schwartz, another infectious disease doctor, told CTV News Thursday.

Saxinger acknowledged the CSEC plans to ask for proof of immunization, but said Sunday that even with vaccinated fans, COVID-19 can spread.

She believes restricting events to fewer than 1,000 fans “has noticeable effects” on transmission, but said it’s hard to calculate exactly how many people it would be safe to allow into the Saddledome.

The team said this week that it expects preseason games to attract 60 to 70 per cent of the arena’s fan capacity. That would mean up to 13,500 people are expected Sunday.

It’ll mark the first time fans are allowed in the venue since the pandemic began.

“We’ve tried to be leaders in the community in terms of supporting anything health initiative-wise to make sure that we can keep everybody – not only our fans – but everyone in the province as healthy as we possibly can,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving told reporters on Wednesday.

A CSEC representative has not answered further CTV News questions about limiting capacity.

The Edmonton Oilers will also require proof of vaccination or a negative test result inside their home games this season.

Alberta reported a record high number of intensive care unit patients on Friday.

1,061 people in the province are in the hospital with COVID-19, including 243 in ICU.

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