Outdoor sports venues across Texas will be allowed to operate at reduced capacity for professional sporting events from this weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Thursday.
From Friday all the counties in the Lone Star State, with the exception of Deaf Smith, El Paso, Moore, Potter and Randall counties, will be allowed to host fans in outdoor venues for professional sporting events, provided capacity is capped at 25 percent.
Prior to welcoming fans back into the stadiums, however, the respective leagues will need to receive approval from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Fans, however, are still banned from attending indoor sporting events and Abbott did not address college and high school sports, although a week ago Abbott had suggested some fans could be allowed to attend college football games this fall.
“If you want a prediction […] we are gonna have college football beginning as scheduled […] with at least some level of fans in the stands,” he told NBC-affiliate KXAN-TV last week.
The relaxation on allowing fans in the stadiums came as Texas reported a new single-day high of coronavirus cases.
According to the latest figure from the state’s health department released on May 28, Texas reported 59,776 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 1,855 from the previous day and 7,508 more than a week ago.
The previous single-day high increase of new cases was 1,801 on May 16.
The death toll, meanwhile, rose by 39 in 24 hours to 1,601, compared with a total of 816 at the beginning of the month.
Texas’ move to allow at least some fans in outdoor venues is a significant step, as so far it had been widely accepted that games will be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future whenever professional leagues return from the two-month hiatus imposed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, the NHL announced that as part of its restart plans, the playoffs will see all the Eastern Conference and Western Conference games split across two yet-to-be-determined cities. The decision to play in specific hubs has been taken to minimize travel and ensure players can be as isolated as possible. While the NBA is yet to finalize return plans, it is expected to follow the NHL’s example and play the entire postseason at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida.
While both sports are expected to resume behind closed doors, Abbott’s decision to allow outdoor venues to operate at reduced capacity could is significant for the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans—the state’s MLB and NFL teams.
While any hopes of baseball returning remain subject to a financial agreement between the league and the MLB Players Association, the NFL plans to get its season underway as expected on September 10 and the Cowboys and Texans could feasibly host fans in their respective stadiums.
Earlier this week, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he believed fans will be allowed into stadiums once the NFL season begins, while complying with health guidelines set out by the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.
“I think there definitely will be a football season this year,” he said during an interview with CNBC on Tuesday morning. “[The] real question is, will there be fans in the stadium? Right now—today—we’re planning to have fans in the stadium.”
A day later, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft confirmed the NFL was ready to return this summer and that it was exploring ways to ensure fans could safely attend games in the not so distant future.
“We’re preparing to hopefully play football this fall,” the Patriots owner told Sean Hannity on FOX News on Tuesday night.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with our [players] union […] We believe we’re developing protocols that allow us to do it in a safe way, looking out first for our players and our personnel, and then of course, the fans. I believe we can do it.”
As of Friday morning, over 1.72 million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., by far the highest tally of any country in the world.
Over 101,600 deaths have been recorded in the U.S. and almost 400,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.
More than 360,400 people have died globally since the outbreak of coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan city, in China’s central Hubei province, late last year. There have been over 5.8 million confirmed cases globally.