'A very human situation': Canucks with COVID-19 experiencing 'whole range of symptoms,' team doctor says
VANCOUVER -- The team doctor for the Vancouver Canucks says the immediate future is "a bit of an unknown" as players who contracted COVID-19 move toward the recovery phase of the disease.
Speaking during a news conference Friday, Dr. Jim Bovard said it's unclear when the team will be able to play again.
"We have learned to expect the unexpected," he said during the conference, which the team livestreamed on Twitter.
The Canucks have been benched effectively since March 31, when forward Adam Gaudette was pulled out of practice following positive test results.
The game against Calgary was cancelled that night, and on Thursday, the NHL announced the team would be off the ice for at least a week.
Since that time, 25 people associated with the team have been added to the league's COVID-19 Protocol List, 21 of whom are players.
It is unclear when the team will be able to play again, though the team's doctor said they're moving into the recovery phase, rather than increasing new cases.
"On how this plays out, it's a bit of an unknown… We're just taking it day by day right now," Bovard said.
In one of the first opportunities given by the team since the initial case was announced, the team's doctor and general manager made themselves available Friday for media questions.
“I thought it was really good of them to do this because there were calls to make this a bit of a case study for the public to show that fit 20- and 30-year-olds are susceptible to this disease and will get hit hard by it,” said Blake Price, host of the Sekeres and Price podcast.
Much of the communication thus far has come from the league, but Bovard and Jim Benning took questions during the news conference on topics ranging from how the team was exposed to what's next.
In terms of where the first case came from, Bovard said it appears the person went to a place they were allowed to visit, based on guidelines, and an exposure took place. He did not provide further details.
It was previously suggested that the variant that spread quickly through the team was P.1, which is often associated with Brazil, but Bovard said that has not yet been confirmed. He said testing is complicated and takes time.
However, his management of patients will be the same regardless of which variant it may be, he said.
The doctor said the team has had "the whole range" of symptoms, but that no one has needed to be hospitalized.
"This is a very human situation," he said. "It's been a tough week… These players go from being hockey players and some of the most resilient, toughest, well-balanced people on the planet to suddenly they're fathers, they're husbands and they're sons, they're brothers, and it takes on a whole different element for them. So they've been focusing on their health and their family health."
Bovard said his job is to get them healthy again and back to work when it's safe, but he acknowledged there are specific challenges with their jobs.
"We know that part of this with the players going back and doing their job where they can't wear a mask, they don't physically distance – that is going against two of our basic weapons we have to protect ourselves against COVID," he said.
Knowing that it's a concern, the team has put into place several other measures, including the daily testing mandated by the league.
"It changes, the virus is smart," he said, so he will be passing on any lessons learned to the NHL. If there are any changes that could be made to better prevent transmission, they will come from the league.
He said there are always "what ifs" and questions of improvement.
"This virus is tricky. The virus is changing and we need to change with it," Bovard said.
As for what this means for the rest of the season and when the Canucks can get back on the ice, that is still up in the air.
“My conversations with the league are that we’re going to continue with our schedule here at some point and we’re going to play all 56 games,” Benning told reporters.
“I’ll believe 56 games when I see it,” said Price. “Time is a huge enemy of theirs right now. I highly doubt they’ll do this. I think they’ll find a creative way to get in the pertinent games to the playoff picture, but I think it’s going to be really hard to get 56 games played there.”
One thing that is working on the team’s side, he said, is that they’re not leading their division.
“I think this would have been a far different story had the Canucks been a first-place team vying for a championship,” said Price. “So, whether they play 56 or 52, it’ll be a large enough size for draft purposes, while having them play a role in the schedule down the stretch.”
The organization still needs approval from public health before it can open its facilities. Bovard said those conversations were happening Friday after the media availability.
“Public health will listen to our report and what we’re going to do and then we will have to get the green light from them to return to work and that will be the final step in the process,” he explained.
Players will still need to get back into game shape, however, especially since they had their vacation week just before the outbreak occurred, Price said.
“I would say weeks ahead still, maybe 10 days before I would expect to see the Vancouver Canucks in any sort of game action,” he said.