At least 13 people who attended a late-June weekend hockey tourney in Ashland now have tested positive for COVID-19.
The patients stretch from Minnesota to Marquette, Mich., where one of them returned home and coached Little League baseball teams, forcing the entire league to shut down.
Just one local patient had tested positive as of Wednesday, but participants in the tournament stayed in local hotels, ate in local restaurants and came into contact with any number of local people, and health officials fear more local cases could result.
“These larger gatherings clearly are not a good idea right now,” said Sara Wartman, public health officer for Bayfield County where the local patient connected to the private tourney held at the Bay Area Civic Center lives.
Messages left at the Bay Area Civic Center seeking comment for this story were not returned. The Ashland Area Youth Hockey Association posted a notice on its Facebook page saying it was aware of the outbreak connected to the tourney and saying the association was not connected to the event.
The Health Department started contact tracing after that Bayfield County patient tested positive for COVID-19. Although technically the person could have contracted the illness elsewhere in the community, Wartman said, the timing of the person’s symptoms and the fact the person had attended a large gathering led health officers to believe the tournament was the likely source.
After contacting counterparts in Michigan, local health officials learned that some people who the event also were ill.
“What those symptoms were we don’t know,” Wartman said.
Nine people in Michigan and three in Minnesota who attended the tournament have tested positive, and test results are pending for others, so the number of cases could very well rise.
Wartman said the Health Department contacted eight different teams, plus Ashland-area hotels and restaurants, but she did not disclose which businesses were involved.
Mark Gutteter, owner of The Alley restaurant in Ashland, confirmed that people who attended the tournament ate at his business during the tournament weekend.
The Ashland and Bayfield health departments recommended that employees who waited on those customers quarantine themselves for 14 days, he said. As a result 11 workers are at home and The Alley is closed — possibly through the weekend — because of staffing issues.
However, Gutteter is confident in the restaurant’s cleaning and sanitation program. He also said all of his workers wear masks, which hopefully will prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to keep them, customers and the community safe.
Although Wartman hesitated to reveal the affected Ashland businesses, Iron County, which has eight confirmed cases, has gone ahead and identified two Hurley businesses as having patrons who tested positive and could have significantly increased the risk of exposure to others. The Health Department told people who were at the Beer Barrel between 6:30 and 8 p.m. on July 2 or at the Pit Stop between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. on July 3 to monitor their symptoms.
Wartman said the time is probably coming that Bayfield County will need to publicly identify businesses that had positive-testing customers and cite their varying degrees of risk. She acknowledged the potential risk for discrimination, but the Health Department would take the same steps with any other communicable disease such as tuberculosis or meningitis.
People who wish to be tested for COVID-19 are welcome to attend a free event from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at the Iron River Community Center.
As of Monday, Ashland County had four positive cases with no fatalities, while Bayfield County had one of four COVID-19 positive patients die from the disease.