The Buffalo Bills have perhaps the most rabid fan base in the NFL, so it was good news for #BillsMafia to hear on Tuesday that allowances have been made to ensure that the Bills have a full house for the 2021 season.
But there is a catch. You must be fully vaccinated.
Erie county executive Mark Poloncarz announced an initiative to allow 100% capacity at home games for fans who have been fully vaccinated. He said he’s spoken to the Bills and believes they will support the plan.
Fans have the right not to get vaccinated, but they don’t have a right to attend Bills games at Highmark Stadium if it puts fans at risk, the executive said.
“There is no God-given right to attend a football game,” Poloncarz said, as reported by the Buffalo News. The regulation would apply as well to the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
Fans would be obligated to download the Excelsior App, which would contain their vaccine information. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had earlier announced a pilot program for the Excelsior Pass that will work as a passport for attending events as Covid-19 maintains its grip on the world.
It is similar to a mobile airline boarding pass that allows users to carry their negative coronavirus test results or their vaccine status, which can be printed out or stored on their smartphone using the encrypted Wallet app.
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Each pass will have a secure QR code, which venues will scan using a companion app to confirm someone’s Covid-19 health status. The QR code only informs the venue if a pass is valid or invalid. Personal data is kept confidential.
The state successfully tested the new confirmation system at a Brooklyn Nets basketball game at the Barclays Center on Feb. 27 and at a New York Rangers hockey game at Madison Square Garden on March 2.
“Our goal is to have a 100% full house for the Bills and Sabres, starting in the fall,” Poloncarz said.
The Bills released a statement to say “we will continue to cooperate and comply with all New York state and local government regulations regarding our sporting events.”
The regulation is bound to be a controversial one because of the experimental nature of the vaccines that have been rolled out so far. And some fans are already voicing displeasure, expressing the sentiment that the county is “forcing” vaccines on the fan base.
The regulation has also drawn questions from people who openly ask if this means that anyone under 16 would be allowed to attend home games. As of now, all adults should be eligible to be vaccinated in the U.S. by next week, according to an NFL memo sent Tuesday to all NFL clubs.
Many states have expanded eligibility to people as young as 18, but that leaves out a younger fan base. The NF said more than 1.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered at club facilities.
Others wonder why this regulation was announced when schools are reopening amid rising cases.
The Excelsior App is already being used by the New York State Department of Health, which allows the state to keep track of who is vaccinated.
“I want to get back to normal as quick as possible,” Poloncarz said. “And the best way to do that is to vaccinate everyone.”
The goal is to put the policy in place by the preseason in July. There is no state approval needed because the county owns the facilities in which the Bills and Sabres play.
The policy has been set out to protect not only the fans in the stands, but also the players on the field, the concessionaires, the sheriff’s deputies and the security guards, according to Poloncarz.
The county executive also said there will no longer be a need to do mass testing for those who want to attend Bills games because they will have to download the app. If fans don’t show proof of vaccination, they will be denied entry.
The NFL memo encouraged teams to take further steps to educate and promote vaccine availability and acceptance within the league.
The memo could lead to teams setting up vaccinations for players and staff on site. The memo encourages teams to push their people to get vaccinated and for clubs to use their stadiums as vaccination sites for club staff, players and eligible family members.
Clubs are asked to update the league office of their plans and percentage of staff vaccinated by April 19.
New York state now allows venues with over 10,000 seats to reopen at 10% capacity All staff and guests must have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the event. Face masks and social distancing are also required.
The average number of new cases in New York fell to 7,101 on Monday, a 2% decrease from the day before. Since January of last year, according to the New York Times, at least 1 in 10 people who live in New York have been infected and at least 1 in 384 have died.