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Sports fans in Charlotte and across North Carolina will soon be allowed to watch more games in person.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday an increase in permissible attendance at sporting events across the state due to the recent decline in new COVID-19 cases.
Cooper is signing an executive order that, beginning Friday, will allow all indoor facilities that hold 5,000 or more people to host 15% of capacity, as long as other health and safety guidelines are followed. Indoor venues that hold under 5,000 may only allow 250 people.
Many outdoor sports venues will now be allowed to hold 30% of capacity with no 100-person limit. Specific capacity limits may depend on the size of the venue and will be in place through March 26.
“When it comes to easing some restrictions, we’re depending on people to be responsible,” Cooper said. “Mandatory mask mandates will not change. More people gathered together, it will be more important than ever to social distance. These proven safety protocols are vital. The virus is still here and affecting people every day.”
The restrictions had been in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, while allowing for all levels of sporting events to safely take place around the state. Cooper announced the revised limitations a day after Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services secretary, told a legislative committee the spread of the virus had slowed enough to 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.
The previous order limited attendance at indoor events to 25 people and 100 people at outdoor events, but was scheduled to expire at the end of February. It also reduced capacity at all outdoor sporting venues that seat 10,000 or more to 7%, although the Carolina Panthers were given an exception to have slightly more in attendance for select games by the governor’s office.
Although the Charlotte Hornets have not yet said how many fans they’ll admit under the new order and when they will begin doing so, the state law would now allow the Hornets to have 3,030 in attendance. Up to this point, the Hornets had decided not to have any fans in the stands for home games.
“We are excited that Governor Cooper has granted the opportunity for fans to begin returning to indoor arenas and entertainment venues. We have remained in contact with state and county officials, as well as the NBA, throughout the last year and are preparing a plan that we believe will allow fans to safely return to Spectrum Center in the near future,” the Hornets said in a statement.
“With the health of our guests, players and staff as our top priority, we have implemented a variety of upgrades to ensure that Spectrum Center is as safe as possible, including increased levels of air filtration and purification, as well as enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures.”
Throughout the NBA, teams have slowly begun bringing fans back to arenas team-by-team. As of Feb. 24, 14 of 30 NBA teams are allowing fans. The Hornets will not play again at Spectrum Center until March 11 vs. the Detroit Pistons.
Charlotte Motor Speedway announced that it anticipated allowing 30% at the Coca-Cola 600 and its affiliated races, scheduled for May 28-30, which means around 30,000 people will be able to attend. With the state order expiring March 26, the attendance limits could change prior to the event. Details are still being determined regarding camping availability.
High school sports
High school sports throughout the state will see the lowest increase in the capacity at games, despite the high school football season beginning this week.
Most outdoor events will be able to increase to the 30% capacity, however, smaller indoor arenas, for basketball and other sports, will only be able to hold 250.
Beginning March 1, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will allow 500 spectators at outdoor sporting events. The home team will be allowed 300 spectators and the visiting team 200 spectators
“The NCHSAA is grateful for the improvements in the state’s COVID-19 metrics,” North Carolina High School Athletic Association commissioner Que Tucker said in a statement. “These improvements provide the opportunities for North Carolina’s students to return to the classroom in many cases and resume the optimal learning environment that in-person learning provides. We are also excited for the opportunity to allow parents and some fans from the community the opportunity to attend sporting events in-person to support their loved ones.”
Many of the sports at Davidson College will be taking place over the next couple of months. The new restrictions will allow for some attendance at those events depending on the sport and venue.
“Based on Governor Cooper’s recent executive order, Davidson College’s Department of Athletics will allow a home team guest list and students to attend contests being held at Alumni Stadium (soccer) and Richardson Stadium (football, lacrosse), while Carol Grotnes Belk Turf Field (field hockey) and Wilson Field (baseball) will be limited to home team guest lists only,” the school said in a statement.
Minor league baseball
With minor league baseball teams across the state preparing to return to play for the 2021 season, the increased attendance limits will allow for more flexibility at venues.
The Charlotte Knights are allowed to host 3,060 in the stands at games, while the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers will now be able to have a maximum of 1,479 in attendance. It will be the first season at Kannapolis’ new stadium, Atrium Health Park.
“We are very pleased with today’s announcement from Governor Cooper that outdoor sports venues in North Carolina can now operate at 30% capacity,” the Knights said in a statement. “Our first home game of the 2021 season is set for Tuesday, April 13, and we look forward to safely welcoming fans back to Truist Field. We will continue to work with state and local officials between now and our scheduled home opener.”