ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — At this point, it's still unclear when the Western New York region will begin reopening and when mass gatherings will be permitted again, leaving many Bills fans wondering what home games will look like when the time comes.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people are saying, 'Hey, am I gonna be able to go to the Bills games in the fall?' And the answer is, I don't know," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday.
During Thursday's Virtual Town Hall, 2 On Your Side's Michael Wooten asked Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, who's in charge of Western New York's reopening effort, if she could see fans packing New Era Field this fall.
"Our hearts are just breaking because we want to be told yes," Hochul said. "Everybody wants to know that we're gonna feel like we're back to normal. It all comes down to whether or not this virus, this lethal virus, disappears by the end of summer.
"Or does it come back with a vengeance, which is what we are so afraid of right now, and we don't want any setbacks. I don't think there will be many facilities where people feel comfortable going in large gatherings until there's a vaccination, but to be determined."
We asked Dr. Thomas Russo, the chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, for his take on this.
"Since a large proportion of the Western New York population and really elsewhere in the United States around the globe is still susceptible to the new coronavirus, large public gathers are gonna impose a significant risk for the development of new infections," he said.
Dr. Russo added, "I think that if they were going to have fans attend the games, that the larger number of fans, greater the risk or conversely stated, if you spread the fans out, then that would decrease the risk."
However, he said even then, there would need to plans in place to avoid clustering, for example getting in and out of the stadium.
"By the time the season starts, it's really going to be too soon for a vaccine which is really something that would be a game-changer for this," said Dr. Russo.
In an interview with The Buffalo News, leaders within Pegula Sports were asked if it seems reasonable to expect the season to begin, whenever that happens, without fans in the stands.
Kim Pegula, the co-owner and president of the Bills and Buffalo Sabres, replied with, "We're all competitive and we're competing with other clubs across the whole country. So I think that's reasonable if we say, 'What are the guidelines? How do we keep our fans safe? How do we keep our players safe? And then how do we maintain a competitive equality across all the clubs?' It’s safe to say that's one of the options that we certainly are looking at. And if that's the way we have to go, we'll be ready."
Here is the complete schedule:
- Week 1: vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. September 13
- Week 2: at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., September 20
- Week 3: vs. Los Angeles Rams, 1 p.m. September 27
- Week 4: at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:25 p.m. October 4
- Week 5: at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. Thursday, October 11
- Week 6: vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 8:20 p.m. October 15
- Week 7: at New York Jets, 1 p.m. October 25
- Week 8: vs. New England Patriots, 1 p.m. November 1
- Week 9: vs. Seattle Seahawks, 1 p.m. November 8
- Week 10: at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. November 15
- Week 11: Bye
- Week 12: vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m. November 29
- Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers, 8:15 p.m. Monday, December 7
- Week 14: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:20 p.m. December 13
- Week 15: at Denver Broncos, to be determined
- Week 16: at New England Patriots, 8:15 p.m. Monday, December 28
- Week 17: vs. Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. January 3