A Zamboni cleans the ice at Merrill Fay Arena, one of the ice rinks shut down by the state after 158 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 associated with hockey activities across New Hampshire over the last two months. (Courtesy file photo)

LACONIA — Indoor use of ice skating rinks, including the local Merrill Fay Arena, will be halted for two weeks after 158 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 associated with hockey activities across New Hampshire over the last two months, the state announced Thursday.

A referee who officiated a game at the arena on Oct. 3 has tested positive for the disease. This was one of eight games he worked in New Hampshire and Maine over a two-day period.

No local case statistics involving the arena were immediately released. Arena manager Will Fay said in an email that he was not available to comment until Friday.

Gov. Chris Sununu said in his weekly news conference that the two-week pause “will enable us to continue to work with rink owners, hockey programs, public health and the attorney general’s office to put additional safeguards in place enabling the rinks to clean and sanitize and for the players and their families to get tested.”

Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said overall COVID-19 case numbers have increased to about 70 to 80 per day, but hospitalizations remain low and the positivity rate for tests also remains low at around 1 percent.

Five counties, including Belknap, have a moderate level of community transmission of the virus. In Belknap County, there are 27 active cases of coronavirus, out of 185 total since the start of the pandemic, including 14 hospitalizations and five deaths. Statewide, there have been 453 deaths, most associated with long-term care facilities.

“Hockey is one of the high risk activities where we have seen substantial spread of COVID-19,” Chan said.

There have been eight different outbreaks associated with ice hockey in New Hampshire involving 23 hockey organizations.

“People who were diagnosed likely led to other exposures at schools, businesses, long-term care facilities, social gatherings,” Chan said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said ice hockey can lead to risks for disease transmission. It said 13 people tested positive for the disease after a June 16 recreational hockey game in Tampa Bay, Florida.

“Ice hockey involves vigorous physical exertion accompanied by deep, heavy respiration, and during the game, players frequently move from the ice surface to the bench while still breathing heavily,” the CDC said.

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