ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — If you would like to attend a Buffalo Bills or Buffalo Sabres game later this year you may have to be vaccinated for COVID-19 first.
During Erie County's weekly COVID-19 briefing, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz discussed a plan to allow full attendance at both Bills and Sabres games. Poloncarz says the county supports returning all fans to Highmark Stadium and the KeyBank Center this fall; however, under the county's plan, all fans and staff would be required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
"That is why I am announcing now, our plan is unless you are vaccinated you will not have entry into the stadium," Poloncarz said.
Fans and staff would need to show proof of vaccination through New York's Excelsior app. The app acts as a sort-of boarding pass to prove you have received a COVID-19 vaccination or negative test.
"Our goal is to have a 100 percent full house for the Bills and Sabres starting in the fall," Poloncarz said. "And that's ensuring everybody who enters that facility, the fans, the staff are fully vaccinated."
The county executive went on to say he does not believe this policy needs state approval because these are county-owned properties. He says the teams will have their own restrictions in place for staff. Something will be figured out for people who are from out-of-state and can't get that app. Also, he was asked about kids, and he says he fully expects that children 12 to 15-years-old will be able to get vaccinated this summer. They're also figuring out how to handle this for people who don't have cell phones.
The Buffalo Bills released the following statement Tuesday evening:
“As we did last year, we will continue to cooperate and comply with all New York State and local government regulations regarding our sporting events.”
However, a big question about this mandate is, can it be challenged in court?
2 On Your Side legal analyst and constitution expert Paul Cambria said it's complicated, but he said it could be. He gave an example of what a challenge could involve.
"This is a freedom of expression and entertainment situation, you're depriving me of it," he said. "That mixed with my liberty right to freely move around in society without too much government interference is enough for you to say okay there's another way you can get to the game, could it be the test or whatever. As opposed to injecting something into your body."
Cambria also said it could also be an issue that the vaccines being distributed only have emergency approval by the FDA, which he said could be argued in court.
"The last part is what about people who for some reason, because of medical conditions, cannot have a vaccination? Do we now have a Disability Act violation?" Cambria asked.
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw issued a statement Tuesday saying he plans to fight the required vaccination, saying in part, "Lawsuits will hopefully stop this latest dictatorial scheme to control your behavior."
There is also a petition with more than 700 signatures circulating, asking the Buffalo Bills to fight the vaccination requirement.
However, UB's Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Thomas Russo said he believes the announcement is good news for the Western New York community.
"So I think this is positive news," he said. "It will enable us to get back to doing things that we love doing and be able to do them in a safe and comfortable fashion."
The county executive says this would be implemented for pre-season Bills games with no exemptions, so the stadium can be 100 percent full.