When the National Football League kicks off its 2020 season Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs won’t just be playing host to the visiting Houston Texans, but also up to 16,000 fans inside Arrowhead Stadium.
Despite warnings against hosting a crowd of that size during a pandemic coming from the broader medical community, including Vice President Mike Pence’s former medical doctor, the Chiefs announced earlier last month that the team would play its home games in front of crowds limited to 22% capacity after receiving the blessing from local health officials.
Ahead of the debut game, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas defended the team’s decision in an interview with Yahoo Finance and lauded the safety protocols put in place as a potential model for the rest of the country.
“This wasn’t just the Kansas City Health Department, we worked with doctors at a local hospital, we worked with the NFL, the Chiefs physicians, so many others who were part of the process,” Lucas told Yahoo Finance’s YFi PM. “Everything about the experience will be different than if you went to a game recently at Madison Square Garden or anywhere else.”
For Thursday’s game, the Chiefs said it would space out available seats, require fans to wear masks inside the stadium (with the exception of when necessary to remove a mask for drinking or eating) and set up hand sanitizing stations throughout the stadium. Socially distanced tailgates, however, were still allowed and the team only “encouraged” masks for those events before the game. Arrowhead is also going cashless to limit interactions between fans and stadium staff during transactions.
As former White House physician Dr. Jennifer Peña raised in an interview with Yahoo Finance earlier this week, there is still concern around crowds entering the stadium or bottlenecks of people inside the arena that could lead to community spread.
“It's hard to believe that with opening up the season, even in a limited capacity as they're planning to do, that we're not going to see an uptick in cases and it would be tragic,” she said. “So I would have to say I disagree with that decision.”
Lucas downplayed those fears by applauding the scientific approach taken by the team to arrive at the limited capacity attendance number and other policies like letting tickets only be purchased in socially distanced “pods” or groups of fans to reduce intermingling.
“Part of the reason we get to a weird number like 22%, which some have pushed back at us on, is because that actually is the measurement of what you need to have rows between people, to have social distancing between pod groups,” he said. “There really won’t be crowds in the same way at the stadium.”
While coronavirus cases in Kansas City have declined over the last few weeks, the city still has a test positivity rate more than nine-times that of New York City, which has seen its positivity rate stay below 1% for more than a month. As a state, Missouri has seen coronavirus cases continue to rise, despite national cases moving in the opposite direction.
Nonetheless, Lucas said he’s confident the actions taken will be enough to prevent a super-spreader event like the one that has medical experts worried.
“I am not dramatically concerned we’ll get that many more cases out of Arrowhead Stadium,” he said. “I think the protections should work but it’s something we’ll continue to look at each week.”