August 11, 2020

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Cautionary tale: Montreal-area club closes for COVID

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The good news over the summer was that tennis clubs re-opened around North America.

Better news was that they gradually loosened restrictions on doubles, serving with your own tennis balls, and eventually the size of group lessons.

The bad news: you could see – day by day – that people were getting careless. That the gradual return to some semblance of normal around your local club had people almost forgetting the reason the clubs were late opening in the first place.

On Wednesday, the first casualty in the greater Montreal area appeared: the venerable Royal Oak Club in Hudson, Que.

The club sent out an email to members, announcing that the club was being closed “immediately, and until further notice” because of a confirmed positive case of the coronavirus.

They must await test results from the coaches, and other kids and perhaps people on site at the time.

But from what we’ve heard, it was two cases – both juniors – after a clinic over the weekend for junior recreational players.

It was only a matter of time before something like this happened.

Here’s part of the official statement from the club, which came later in the week:

“The Royal Oak Tennis Club was informed yesterday of two junior members who tested positive for COVID-19. The two junior members have not been at the club since Saturday July 18 and only attend lessons once a week with a small group. Both are from the same family and reside in the same household.

Health officials confirmed they tested positive on July 25 after one of the juniors experienced symptoms on July 21. Health officials informed the parents of these junior members that it is highly unlikely they passed on the virus to anyone else in their group lesson, given that their last day on the premises was July 18th.

As a precaution, and in accordance with the directives provided by Quebec Public Health, the Executive Committee decided to close the club immediately upon learning of the situation. The ROTC EC will continue to monitor the situation and do what’s best for the health and safety of all our members.”

Tennis’s social aspect means trouble

Even at my own club, evidence of players failing to use their own marked tennis balls and not respecting social distancing even when it was singles only – never mind once the doubles was allowed – was there almost from the get-go.

The guidance to have only the coaches handle and pick up the tennis balls during group sessions with the kids has not been strictly adhered to. As well, parents or guardians who accompany the kids are supposed to drop them off and come back to get them after their lessons. Instead, many stick around, adding more people to the mix.

The picturesque Royal Oak Club a few years ago, before COVID-19 made everything so complicated. (Royal Oak – Facebook photo)

As much as tennis – the actual playing of it – is a pretty safe sport in terms of social distancing, it also is a social sport. And that was always going to be the toughest thing to enforce as each phase of the re-opening was rolled out.

That’s especially true as a good proportion of people in any club, especially during daytime hours, are of a certain age and, as a result, more susceptible.

In the case of Royal Oak, it is a small club and may have had neither the resources nor the personnel to do what many clubs around Montreal have done: install a booking system and try to police everyone’s behaviour. It’s been a. big challenge for anyone during the pandemic.

It’s a challenging thing to do at an outdoor summer club even in ideal circumstances. In the winter at indoor clubs, you generally book courts by the hour.

Until now, the members playing what the club refers to as “private matches” didn’t have to sign in with the time they played and what court they were on.

They do now.

But there still doesn’t appear to be a booking system, as is in place for most of the clubs in the area and ensures a safe period of transition on court changes (not to mention a record of everyone on site).

Tough to police people

Whether manual or online, the booking system allows the clubs to record who was in the club at any given time. It also helps control traffic into the club with the requirement that players arrive only shortly before their scheduled time and leave immediately afterwards.

Some players try to circumvent the system by booking back-to-back courts for singles – but playing doubles instead. Player also would fail to advise the club when they changed the playing partners they had originally booked with.

And we’re told they didn’t take enough care, as the kids all ended up in the clubhouse – not socially distant, as kids tend not to be – during a rain stoppage. Most of the clubs around the city have their clubhouses closed – with exceptions made for emergency bathroom trips.

It’s tough enough to keep kids apart as it is – but videos like this on social media give a false sense of security about keeping the coronavirus at bay.

You mention these concerns to your fellow players and most of them say, “Oh, no, we’re being really careful at our club. The members are cooperating. No worries here.”

But it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone.

So, fellow tennis players, please remember we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and follow the rules.

Be careful, or your club may end up like Royal Oak – which reopened Aug. 1 after two coaches who came into contact with the young players tested negative.

And with so many of us staying close to home this summer, enjoying our tennis club is more vital than ever.