California became the latest state to update its coronavirus safety protocols to allow fans to return to outdoor events (with restrictions), but the San Francisco 49ers will be remaining fan-free for the time being. Santa Clara County officials announced they would not be allowing the team to have fans in the stands despite the updated guidance less than three hours after the state came out with it.
“This is the worst thing in the world to be doing,” county executive Dr. Jeff Smith said at a news conference announcing the continued denial of fans at games in the county. “At a time when California is beginning to see some light, this amounts to another step backward. We’ve already done steps backwards in California that have cost tens of thousands of lives and this is another risk to do this.”
Earlier in the day, the 49ers had issued a statement sharing their appreciation of the state’s opening the possibility for organizations to host fans in limited capacity.
“We appreciate Governor Newsom’s leadership and thoughtful approach in creating a framework that allows for a return of fans to Levi’s Stadium, and restart the economic activity of the region,” it said. “We welcome our fans and their support of local businesses and vendors that are critical to our local economy, especially during these difficult times.”
California rates its coronavirus case rates and reopening status on a “tier” system, with Santa Clara and Alameda counties currently in Tier 3 – indicating “moderate” COVID risk. San Francisco County is in Tier 4, considered “minimal” risk. Los Angeles, home to the state’s two other NFL franchises, is currently in Tier 1, which means the state would not allow fans at home games for either the Rams or Chargers at this time.
Per the state’s guidance, the 49ers would be allowed to host up to 14,000 fans at home games based on Levi’s Stadium capacity of just under 70,000. Those fans would need to live within a 120-mile radius of the stadium per the regulations, in hopes that keeping large events regional would minimize the risk of attendees being exposed to the virus and taking it home to their communities. But despite these risk mitigation factors in the state guidelines, county officials decided to err on the side of caution by denying any fans at all for the time being.
“It’s a matter of reasonable scientific decision-making instead of political decision-making,” Smith said. “Putting an audience in a stadium in large groups is just asking for trouble. It’s like a petri dish.”
More than half of NFL franchises have begun allowing fans in limited capacity thus far in 2020, with new teams receiving approval each week. Only one franchise, the Las Vegas Raiders, has announced its intention to keep fans out of the stadium for the entire season at this point. New Jersey, which sees home games for both the New York Jets and Giants played at its Metlife Stadium across the Hudson River from New York City, has also indicated no fans will be allowed at any point in the season. For now, at least, it appears that California will also keep fans at home, despite the state making it possible for at least one team to bring them to the games.