ALBANY, N.Y. — Can Buffalo Bills fans attend a playoff game at Bills Stadium?
This question has been tossed around several times over the past week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who provided more details for Bills fans on Wednesday morning.
The governor says nothing is final at this time, but a plan is in development.
Cuomo says the New York State Department of Health is working with the Bills on a demonstration project that would allow 6,700 fans in the stadium for the playoff game.
The plan includes mandatory rapid testing of fans prior to the game. The state would then would conduct contact tracing following the game to see if any positive COVID-19 cases occur in result. Fans must nest negative for COVID-19 in order to be allowed into the game.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says this is a public health model that hasn't been done anywhere else in the country.
"We will work with the team to get all the fans tested who are coming in beforehand, 6,700 people, prior to the game," Zucker said about the proposal. "We'll have proof of a negative result prior to entering. We'll work with the team and do contact tracing afterword."
Budget Director Robert Mujica added that the state is still reviewing the Bills' plan. Some of the details include social distancing and that masks will be required at all times.
Mujica said fans who are not wearing masks, or refuse to wear masks, would be ejected from the stadium.
However, Zucker went on to stay that he's more concerned about stopping the spread of COVID-19 at parties or other celebratory events.
"My concern here is we can control how fans come into the stadium, we can control other factors as well dealing with the stadium, but the ancillary events, the parties are where this virus can spread," Zucker said. "The events at the airport is a classic example, which we saw the other day. Thousands gathered without masks and that's how disease spreads. So how do we control that? That is really the question and that's what we are working on as well."
The Buffalo Bills released a statement Wednesday saying, “We are continuing to work with the governor’s office regarding the details of a plan to possibly host a limited amount of spectators at our home playoff game. Nothing has been finalized at this point.”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:
“My administration and the Erie County Health Department have not been a part of any discussions regarding the ‘demonstration project’ announced by Governor Cuomo to allow 6,700 fans into Bills Stadium to see a football game and we have no information to add on the proposal. Despite being on several calls with NYS officials for a variety of matters related to the COVID-19 Pandemic over the past few days, no such proposal was brought up and additionally, my recent conversations with staff from the Buffalo Bills indicated to me that while the Bills submitted numerous plans to return fans to the stadium in past months they were unsure whether any of the plans were being actively considered by the state.
"Furthermore, a decision to allow fans into the stadium must be made no later than the middle of next week in order to properly prepare for a game in two weeks, including the sale and distribution of tickets to fans and the activation of appropriate support staff for such an event. Therefore, a decision must be made by the middle of next week to properly prepare for such a game.
"Finally, it must be noted Erie County does not have the capacity to do rapid testing on 6,700 individuals in either a pre-game or prior day setting – the county performs on average 1,450 COVID-19 tests per week for all tests (Abbot ID Now Rapid Tests, Abbot Binax Now Rapid Tests, and traditional PCR Tests) – and that NYS or the Buffalo Bills organization would have to conduct both these tests and the related contact tracing. While we will work with NYS if needed on this proposal, Erie County has not been a part of its formulation and we have no details on how or if it will occur.”