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York Region defends choice to mandate vaccines for youth at sports facilities

Of the 10 basketball tournament outbreaks in Ontario between Feb. 20 and Sept. 20, 1 in 5 cases were linked to York Region
Oct. 5, 2021

York Region is defending its decision to override a provincial COVID-19 vaccine verification exemption for youth to play organized sports.

New acting medical officer of health Dr. Richard Gould spoke in an Oct. 4 video about the region’s letter of instruction that tasks facility owners and operators to check vaccination status for everyone age 12 and older who enter a sports or recreation facility -- even though youth ages 12 to 17 participating in organized sports are exempt under the provincial system.

Gould said it is a needed step with cases projected to get to 430 per day in York Region by December and previous outbreaks associated with basketball tournaments.

“The decision to require proof of vaccination from all individuals age 12 and up entering facilities where organized sports are played and practised can’t wait,” he said. “We recognize this requirement may cause inconvenience to some residents, businesses and sports organizations.”

The new rule went into effect Oct. 1, with facility owners liable to follow it under the Reopening Ontario Act. It affects both private and municipal facilities, but both the towns of Newmarket and Aurora have said they will not enforce it on youth at their facilities until Nov. 1.

Gould said York has seen multiple outbreaks involving basketball tournaments and dances, mostly affecting unvaccinated youth. Of the 10 basketball tournament outbreaks in Ontario between Feb. 20 and Sept. 20, one in five cases were linked to York Region.

However, Gould noted that vaccinations are high among the 12 to 17 age group, with 75 per cent fully vaccinated and 83 per cent with at least a first dose. That is still lower than the general eligible population, with 82 per cent fully vaccinated and 86 per cent with at least one dose. 

“Long exposure times, crowded indoor spaces and masks removed during physical activity all contributed to increased risk,” Gould said. “Requiring more groups to be protected with COVID-19 vaccination will help reduce this risk while maintaining opportunities for sport.”