Hands off? Players take precautions because of norovirus
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — One of hockey’s most time-honored traditions is in danger of not happening at the Olympics.
Officials have told players to fist-bump each other rather than shaking hands to prevent transmission of norovirus, which is highly contagious. U.S. defenseman James Wisniewski’s 62-year-old father tested positive for norovirus last week and is one of 49 of 283 confirmed Olympic cases still in quarantine.
“It’s something that you’re like, ‘Ah, really how bad can it get?’ And then all of a sudden bang, bang — a couple people close to you have it and you don’t really know how, you don’t know where,” Wisniewski said Monday. “You don’t want it going through your locker room, that’s for sure.”
That’s why players are taking precautions by fist-bumping instead of shaking hands. It’s particularly important for the Russian team because it’s customary for them to shake hands with everyone each day.
The U.S. men’s team definitely isn’t shaking hands. Alternate captain Jim Slater even fist-bumps media members before interviews.
“It’s good,” Slater said. “I do it to everybody. Touching hands and stuff, you never know where hands are. Just being cautious.”
Women’s teams have decided to continue shaking hands, including the U.S. and Finland after their semifinal game Monday. Players know about the warning and decided the meaning behind the postgame ritual outweighs the risks.
“That’s part of what’s special about hockey is the mutual respect and the handshake after,” U.S. forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said after advancing to the gold-medal game. “In these tournament settings, it’s not prelims anymore, so I think shaking hands ... it’s just respect.”
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel is not sure it’s necessary for players to stop but figures it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“You know doctors — one doctor (has a) different opinion, like the lawyers,” Fasel said. “That would be a disaster if a good team is just taken out because of that. I feel sorry because this is hockey game and we shake hands at the close of game. (But) If we can help to avoid that there is an infection in the team in a very important moment of the tournament, I think that’s a good decision.”
Fasel added that he hopes players can have a real handshake in elimination games because it’s hockey tradition.
U.S. players don’t mind skipping this tradition, saying it’s not worth the risk.
“I’m not concerned about it, but just trying to take every precaution not to get it,” forward Broc Little said. “I think the fist-bump’s a good idea.”
Wisniewski and those around him thought it a good idea to stay away from his father, who is confined to one of two apartments the family is renting in South Korea. Wisniewski said his dad, Jim, started getting sick while waiting for a taxi and had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance.
Jim Wisniewski is feeling a bit better now after sleeping almost all day Sunday, but his son isn’t taking any chances.
“It was pretty bad,” Wisniewski said. “I’ve stayed away from him.”
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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