It may be some time before those intimidating crowd roars again erupt at Lincoln Financial Field, but on Tuesday the state did loosen restrictions on gatherings, clearing the way for at least some fans to return to stadiums.
Under the guidelines released by the state Department of Health, beginning on Friday, the one-size-fits-all limits of 25 people for indoor gatherings and 250 for outdoor events will be replaced by capacity-based restrictions. Large stadiums with a capacity of more than 10,000 will be allowed 15% of their maximum occupancy, up to 7,500 people.
City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, however, implied that those stadium cardboard cutouts weren’t in imminent danger of being displaced from the stands at the Eagles' home in South Philly, and it wasn’t clear when audiences might be allowed again to attend major live events in the city.
Citing increases in cases and positive-test rates in the last week, Farley said the city wouldn’t necessarily adopt the state’s new standards. “We do have concerns about Philadelphia because we do have unique risks in the city,” he said.
Farley said the city reported a daily average of 110 new cases in the seven-day period ending Saturday, compared with 86 the week before. The positive-test rate increased to 3.9%, from 2.9%. He said the city would announce its own crowd guidelines next week.
“I want to go to a football game, too,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “There’s nothing I miss more than Eagles football on Sunday. But I don’t think it’s worth putting people’s health in jeopardy or people’s lives in jeopardy.”
Farley said one concern of large gatherings is that people will gather closer together than six feet and “take their masks off in the excitement of the moment.”
The Eagles will actually play before a live audience on Sunday for the first time this season, but they won’t be home: They are scheduled to play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, where about 5,500 seats will be open to fans, a crowd size more appropriate to a decent high school football game.
Under the state guidelines, venues must require attendees to wear masks, comply with social distancing requirements, and implement best practices such as timed entry, multiple entry and exit points, and multiple restrooms and hygiene stations.
Should the state determine that crowds are the sources of outbreaks, “we can and will dial back these new limits,” said Rachel Levine, the state health commissioner.
“Pennsylvanians must continue to social distance and wear masks as we prepare to fight the virus through the fall and winter,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “We know everyone has sacrificed in many ways and today’s announcement reflects a gradual adjustment to our lives as we learn how we can do things safely until we have a cure, or an effective vaccine is widely available.”
The Philadelphia Union could become the first local professional team to welcome fans into its stadium. The Union would be permitted up to 2,775 people at Subaru Park in Chester, where the capacity is 18,500. The soccer team is scheduled to host Montreal on Sunday at 7:30 p.m., however it was uncertain if the team would be ready to open the gates by then.
It was unclear Tuesday what area college football programs were planning. Temple University said it would await the city’s next crowd edict before making any decision.
The Big Ten announced last month that no fans would be allowed in the stands, including Penn State games at Beaver Stadium in University Park.
However, Penn State’s updated guidelines will allow players' families to watch the games from inside Beaver Stadium, which can accommodate nearly 110,000 spectators. “Essential staff involved in the game day operation” will also be able to be on site, a spokesperson said.
The Big Ten Conference voted last month to start its football season the weekend of Oct. 24 but decided not to allow the public sale of tickets at any university.
Here are the new guidelines from the state Department of Health: