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With new COVID-19 cases falling after last month’s surge, state health officials are comfortable with more people attending sports events in North Carolina.
Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday he’ll sign an executive order increasing the capacity limits that have been in place to slow the coronavirus’ spread and protect people during the pandemic.
Beginning Friday, indoor sports arenas with seating of more than 5,000 will be allowed to have attendance at 15% of their capacity. Outdoor venues will be allowed to seat spectators at 30% of capacity. Mandatory mask mandates and social distancing requirements will remain in effect
The move came one day after Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services secretary, told a legislative committee the virus’ spread had slowed enough begin allowing more movement and gathering.
“Our trends are moving in the right direction, and we know we want to reassess where we are in terms of easing restrictions,” Cohen told the N.C. House Health Committee on Tuesday.
Cooper’s decision would open the door for UNC to welcome spectators to the Smith Center for its March 6 men’s basketball game with Duke. The Smith Center seats 21,750, so the new guidelines would allow for 3,262 spectators if UNC officials decide to allow them.
The ACC announced last week it would not sell tickets to the public for its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Greensboro next month. Citing the state’s COVID-19 protocols, the league planned to only allow family and personal guests of team personnel to watch games at the Greensboro Coliseum.
In making that decision. the league did say it would consider allowing fans should the state’s restrictions change.
Cooper last signed an executive order on Jan. 27 that maintained a modified stay-at-home order, with a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew, and limited attendance at outdoor high school sports events to 100 through 5 p.m. on Feb. 28.
Cooper’s executive orders had also limited capacity at all outdoor sporting venues seating 10,000 or more to 7%.
With minor league baseball teams across the state setting their schedules for a return to play this season after the pandemic caused no games to be played in 2020, team operators have been pushing state officials for expanded capacities in their stadiums.
Stadiums used by the Durham Bulls and Charlotte Knights both fell under the 7% capacity limits, meaning 700 people could have attended their games under Cooper’s previous executive orders. Other minor-league stadiums with capacities below 10,000, like the Carolina Mudcats’ Five County Stadium in Zebulon, were subject to the 100-person limits.
Indoor venues were limited to 25 guests, not including players and game staff.
UNC, N.C. State or Duke have not sold tickets to the public for its basketball games this season. UNC allowed two guests per player to attend games and NC State also limited attendance at PNC Arena to player guests. Duke has not allowed spectators, including players’ families, to attend games at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Cooper’s announcement does not change Duke’s policies. Duke’s women’s basketball team opted out for the remainder of the season following positive COVID-19 cases in December. Duke’s men’s team plays its final home game of the season on Saturday against Louisville.
The NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes have played home games at PNC Arena since the NHL season started in January with no tickets sold the public.