Ticket holders who provide a negative PCR test within 72 hours of an event will be able to attend events at arenas and stadiums with a capacity of more than 10,000 people, although event capacity will be kept at a strict 10 percent. Additionally, venues eligible for reopening will have to submit their plans to the State Department of Health for approval, and attendees will abide by Covid-19 safety guidelines such as wearing masks, temperature checks and mandatory assigned seating to encourage social distancing.
State inspection efforts for eligible venues have been underway and have already approved Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which will be hosting a Nets game versus the Sacramento Kings on the 23rd. Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden is set to reopen as well, at 2,000 capacity, with the Knicks on February 23rd and the Rangers on February 26th. A spokesperson for the Yankees stated that Cuomo’s decision was “an encouraging first step,” but so far Yankees Stadium has not announced plans to reopen to fans.
Governor Cuomo approved the plan after launching a pilot program last month, when the Buffalo Bills hosted two playoff games in which fans were allowed to attend, provided they showed a negative test and adhered to stadium rules such as mask-wearing and temperature checks. “We’ve had virtually no cases of spread from that game,” Cuomo stated on January 29th, although that claim has not been verified.
As of now, the only events scheduled at Barclays or similarly sized venues are sporting events that have been ongoing without an audience. The soft reopening of the venues opens them up to the potential to host live music events, but with much of the country still in lockdown due to the pandemic, it’s virtually impossible that large-scale tours will resume in March 2021. (In place of indoor music and arts events, Cuomo previously announced NY PopsUp, an outdoor pop-up arts festival throughout the state that will run from February 20th through Labor Day.)
“We applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this step to start the return to live events in New York. While operating concerts at scale will require much greater capacity, the opportunity to start bringing thousands of fans back into arenas and amphitheaters creates new opportunities for artists and fans to reconnect,” Michael Rapino, president and CEO of Live Nation Entertainment, told Rolling Stone.
The reopening also raises questions of whether or not Barclays and other large-scale stadiums in New York could still be used for Covid-19 vaccination sites. While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stated on Wednesday that he was in negotiations with the state and the Nets about his plans to turn Barclays into a mass vaccination site, it’s unclear if opening the venue’s sporting events up to audiences will affect those plans. The same day, Mets majority owner Steve Cohen said that he wanted to approve Citi Field for reopening before the 2021 season opener on April 8th, even though the site is currently being used as a city-run mass vaccination site.
New York hospitalizations statewide stood at 7,593 as of Wednesday, the lowest they’ve been since two days after Christmas but still higher than most of the nation. The number of total infections in New York state, despite dropping, remains one of the highest per capita in the country, with nearly 62,000 people testing positive over the last seven days. At least 1,000 people have died from Covid-19 in hospitals and nursing homes each week since January.
“To think about bringing people into large groups and mass gatherings including in indoors arenas, right now, seems cross-purposes with our efforts to really maximize the impact that the vaccine roll out will have in controlling the pandemic,” Denis Nash, the executive director for CUNY Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health, told the Associated Press, noting that Covid-19 spreads more easily indoors and that venue health policies may have limitations, such as when attendees remove masks to eat or drink.
“We’re still at a very severe point, even if the trajectory is good,” Eli Rosenberg, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at University at Albany School of Public Health, added.
For his part, Cuomo insisted in his announcement that testing would allow for the immediate reopening of arts and entertainment events in New York, and that the state could not wait for mass vaccination. “Live sports and entertainment have long been engrained in the fabric of New York and the inability to hold events has only added to the isolation we have all felt at the hands of this virus,” the governor said.