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A Lost Season

Skating in Southern California Soon to Reopen

(Revised June 22, 2020)

(June 8, 2020) As we write this in early June, rinks in Southern California remain closed. In the urbanized counties of Southern California the current case rate is 0.3 to 0.6 percent of the population, with Los Angeles County being the worst case. Deaths in Southern California are running at about 4 percent of cases. Nationwide, Covid-19 deaths are running at about 900 per day, a bit less than half the rate during the peak of the pandemic in early April. Nationwide deaths are projected to continue at a rate above 400 per day into August. Cases and deaths in the rural counties of California are at a much lower rate than the urban centers.

In this environment, California has developed a four phase plan for reopening businesses. On June 5 the state announced that counties that have attested they meet the state’s requirements for phase three openings could begin to open additional types of business, under the state plan. All but 10 counties in California have so far attested they meet the phase three requirements, with those ten all in the San Francisco Bay area. The details for how phase-three businesses can open, and the schedule to be followed, are being left up to each county. After weeks of waiting, the ball is now in the court of county health departments to say what practices phase-three business must follow, and what the schedule for resuming operations will be. It is anticipated counties will make their announcements in the next week (by June 12).

Skating rinks are phase-three businesses under the California’s plan. When the counties give the word, rinks can open and competitions can again be held, but with the restrictions that spectators will not be allowed at competitions. Sporting events with spectators are phase-four activities in California, and there is no hint of when phase four opening will be reached. It is expected this will not occur for several more months.

While many states are planning reopening of businesses with four phase plans, the businesses included an any particular phase varies from state to state.  For example, while ice rinks are phase-three businesses in California, they are phase-four businesses in New York.  Thus, competitions in California may have an earlier start than elsewhere.

Since early March, in a tsunami rolling through the calendar, clubs have been cancelling their competitions. The last competition we know of held in Southern California was in early February. Most clubs have cancelled their competitions outright instead of rescheduling them for later in the summer. Currently, no competitions are scheduled in Southern California through the end of July. Only three clubs in Southern California are currently known for certain to be planning to hold competitions before the Southwest Pacific Regional qualifying competition: The Glacier Falls Summer Classic, rescheduled to August 20-23; the Golden West Championships, the weekend of Labor Day; and the Pasadena FSC Open, sometime time later in September or early October. Southwest Pacific is still on the schedule for the weekend of October 17.

The National Qualifying Series (NQS) component of competitions was canceled earlier this season. The NQS approved competitions are a mechanism to allow skaters to qualify for Sectionals without having to compete at Regionals. As for the Regionals themselves, these competitions are still on the schedule, though there is no guarantee they will not be rescheduled or canceled.  Details will be announced by U.S. Figure Skating in the future.

U.S. Figure Skating announced in mid-May that plans for the qualifying competitions will be announced no later than July 1.  On June 4 officials received an e-mail that availability requests for qualifying competitions will be delayed, and available in a few weeks. As U.S. Figure Skating develops its plans for how qualifying competitions might be held, the association is working closely with the few non-qualifying competitions still in the planning stages for later this summer to determine the best way to hold competitions with social distancing in place. One thing is certain, competitions held the remainder of this year will look very different from past practices.

If things go smoothly, it is likely singles skaters in Southern California will be able to return to training in about 7-10 days, with social distancing requirements in place within rinks, and reduced occupancy loads. Pairs, Dance and Synchro, however, may still be problematic, as these disciplines require skaters be in close proximity for long periods of time in order to train. Hockey has a similar problem. Under California phase-three guidelines public sessions would fall under the same criteria as opening gyms to the public, involving as yet to be determined reduced occupancy loads.

One added complication for competitions is that some states still have in place quarantine requirements of 14 days for persons entering the state, meaning an out of state competitor would have to arrive 14 days before a competition starts before they could venture outside their hotel.  For those states, as a practical matter entries would probably end up limited to skaters within the state where the competition was held.  For California, however, this is not an issue.

Assuming rinks in Southern California open by July 1, skaters will have slightly over two months before entries close for Regionals, leaving little time to recover past skills and also acquire new skills needed to test and move up. Unless skaters are allowed to skate up at Regionals (not currently allowed by the rules) it would seem nearly all skaters who planned to compete at a high level this season are out of luck. Given the short development timeline that skating now requires of athletes to reach elite status, this season will likely be a setback that will impact their future development for seasons to come.

And as bad as all this is, it has the potential to get worse. U.S. Figure Skating is preparing for a potential loss of members this season of over 10%. Meanwhile, health officials warn of a second wave of Covid-19 coinciding with the start of flu season in October. It would be unfortunate on many levels, if qualifying competitions were reschedule to later in the year, only to have that coincide with a second wave of Covid-19 on top of the peak of flu season. Skating is not nearly out of the woods this season, and any plans to be adopted can only be based for now on best guesses and estimates for how things will unfold.

Internationally, one of the Junior Grand Prix competitions has been cancelled and another rescheduled, and it is possible that the entire Junior series will be cancelled.  The ISU has given the host federations of the senior Grand Prix until August 1 to confirm they will be able to host those competitions.  We have heard that should one of the countries be unable to hold their competition Finland would like to be a substitute host.  Assignments to the Grand Prixs have also not yet been announced, and the ISU lists all the Senior events as provisional allotments.

Locations for the French and Japanese Grand Prixs were only recently announced.  Earlier in the year it was rumored that the French Grand Prix would be held in Nantes, or perhaps Grenoble again.  With the resignation of Didier Gailhaguet and the election of Natalie Pechelat as federation president earlier this year, the French federation has seen a bit of turmoil this season which delayed a decision on the location of that event, which is now listed on the ISU schedule for Grenoble.  NHK Trophy is now listed on the schedule for Osaka.

Skate America is still on schedule to lead off the Grand Prix Series in Las Vegas, NV the weekend of October 24. Nevada currently does not have in place a quarantine for travelers entering the state; however, the U.S. does have quarantine requirements for entry into the U.S.  Current regulations would also prohibit spectators at Skate America and the other Grand Prix events.

If current travel restrictions remain in effect into October, travel between the Grand Prix events will be problematic.  All the countries hosting Grand Prix events currently have requirements for persons entering each country to quarantine themselves for 14 days.  Thus, anyone attending Skate America, for example, could not meet the quarantine requirement to attend (or participate in) Skate Canada or Cup of China, but would barely meet the requirement to allow participation in Internationaux de France (TBD) three weeks later, and so on, through the series.

The current travel quarantine requirements may create an insolvable problem for the people who normally work several, in not all six, of the Grand Prix events each season.  Further, competitors who are assigned to two events are scheduled within two weeks of each other could not meet quarantine requirements for their two events, and skaters while in quarantine could not go to a local rink and train.  In addition, anyone who participated in NHK Trophy (the last of the six Grand Prixs) could not meet Chinese quarantine requirements to participate in the Grand Prix Final two weeks later.

Notes added June 22, 2020:  Since California county health departments were given permission to implement phase 3 openings on June 12, 2020 four rinks in southern California posted on their websites shortly thereafter they were partially open for freestyle session.  The majority of rinks remain closed.  The number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. has been on the rise the last two weeks, and this is true also for the state of California.  Recently the state ordered the use of masks, a requirement that had been dropped by most counties earlier this month.  The speed at which rinks will reopen is now again in doubt. One rink in Southern California has posted on its website it will not reopen until phase 4 reopening is approved by the state.

Internationally, the Schengen area has been reducing travel restriction within the area, but travel restrictions (with 14 day quarantining) between the area and other countries have been extended to July 1.  After that date countries outside the area will be required to meet certain criteria to be allow unrestricted travel.  Given that the pandemic is continuing to run nearly unabated within the U.S., travel between the U.S. and the Schengen area is likely to be restricted for a lengthy period to come.