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Bills COVID test procedures expand to open other venues

AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes

Citing the success of the Buffalo Bills two home playoff games, Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state will approve the reopening of mass gatherings sites later this month

Cuomo said because of the decline of the virus, he’ll allow entertainment venues in New York seating over 10,000 people to reopen at 10% capacity starting Feb. 23. All attendees must show proof of a negative rapid coronavirus test 72 hours before the event. 

“Any large stadium or arena can open,” said Cuomo, who added that includes hockey, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, music shows and performances.

In January, the state Department of Health and The Buffalo Bills developed a protocol that allowed 6,700 fans --approx. 10 percent capacity- to attend two of the team's  AFC Playoff games at Buffalo Bills stadium. 

The procedures set up a ticket-holder specific COVID testing site days before the game , charged $60 per test, and restricted attendence to only those who tested negative. Approximately 1.9 percent of those who were tested before the first game were positive; 137 ticket holders were not allowed to attend that game.   

"The Buffalo Bills demonstration program, which I've spoken about before was an unparalleled success," Cuomo said in his Wednesday briefing on COVID-19. " 7,000 people in a stadium, everyone tested. Only stadium to open up for football with testing, believe it or not, was what we did here in New York."

Bills fans were seated at a distance from others they didn't arrive with.  They were required to wear masks from when they leave their vehicles in parking lots until they return to their vehicles, and were asked to leave if they take off their masks.

The Barclay Center in Brooklyn will be the first to open with a Feb. 23 basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Sacramento Kings. 

 The decision to allow large sports stadiums to reopen with limited capacity creates a conflict with mass vaccination sites now running in some of the venues, including in Yankee Stadium, and in Citi Field, where the New York Mets play.

Cuomo said he and his aides have not yet come up with a plan to resolve that, but they’ll be working with the sports teams to figure it out.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.