As we move into March, it’s up to Gov. Tim Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm to follow the science and allow patient fans to return to Target Field and other sporting and entertainment venues across Minnesota.
With baseball’s regular season commencing in a month, the Star Tribune editorial board recently encouraged the governor to take a sensible step, claiming, “The lifting of restrictions will be gradual, at times maddeningly inconsistent and, above all, conditional. One example is letting fans back into ballparks as the Major League Baseball season begins.”
Last week, Malcolm said she’s “optimistic” about allowing fans at games at some point in 2021, but would not make any predictions.
Let’s consider the evidence:
- The NFL hosted over one million fans at 116 games last fall, tracked COVID-19 results with local health authorities, and found no clusters of positive cases.
- COVID tracking also took place after the Feb. 7 Super Bowl — 25,000 fans in Tampa, with more tailgating outside the stadium. Despite media hoping for a “super spreader,” a study from the University of South Florida’s Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research saw “no impact from the Super Bowl in the numbers.”
- Major League Baseball permitted 25% capacity for playoff games in Texas last October without any issues.
- The Saint Paul Saints, now the Twins AAA affiliate, allowed fans last season, showing the state how to safely play during a pandemic.
- Though not in Minnesota, college basketball, baseball and hockey have allowed up to 20% capacity, from Kansas, Indiana and Iowa to Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, with no trouble.
The Twins submitted an extensive plan to Walz and the Department of Health aimed at bringing fans back. The proposal includes tying up seats that aren’t in use; using an app for contactless ordering of food, drinks and merchandise; and various cleaning and safety protocols. Fans who attend the games together will be seated in pods, six feet from other groups.
While the Twins wait to receive bureaucratic edicts about how to run their own business, they asked season-ticket holders Monday to make decisions about their 2021 plans.
In a letter, the team said it’s preparing for a limited number of fans beginning April 8, but will wait for Walz to tell them the number. The ballpark can accommodate nearly 40,000 fans, but it won’t be near capacity.
Unfortunately for people who need to finalize plans during the next six days, Walz provided no timeline on his decision about capacity at Target Field, which has been closed more than five months — over 520 days without crowds — and the team needs a month to prepare the facility for fans.
Minnesota currently allows for crowds of only 250 people at outdoor venues. Professional teams agree it’s not financially viable to open up with that minuscule number, given the costs of operating a stadium.
I personally attended baseball games in Rochester, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Sioux Falls and Willmar last summer, as well as minor league hockey at four venues in four states over the last five weeks. The facilities — from concessions and restrooms to security and seating designs — were immaculate and extremely conscientious.
Our “dark winter” is over. Let’s somehow remind domineering technocrats who won’t relinquish their dangerous stranglehold on our lives.
And to Gov. Walz: it will be fine; you can’t eliminate all risk from life.