Bills Nation will be in attendance when the team takes the field for its first home playoff game in a quarter of a century as the state uses the game to test a pilot COVID-19 rapid testing program.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday, Dec. 30 that the state has reached an agreement with the Bills and the National Football League to allow approximately 6,700 fans in attendance as they look to see if rapid testing can help open up the economy further until the COVID-19 vaccination can hit critical mass.
Cuomo said that he believes the pilot program is the first of its type in the nation.
“Every fan will be tested before the game, and obviously if they test positive for the virus, they won’t attend the game and will get the treatment we need,’ he said. “Post-game there will be contact tracing so we can see exactly what happened, and if there was any spread at the game.”
At the game, fans will be spread throughout the stadium in different “pods,” they will be required to socially distance themselves from others and will be required to wear a mask from the time they get out of their car to the time they get back in, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said.
“The team staff will control all entry and exit points, and once inside ushers will be present to ensure fan compliance,” he added, noting that tailgating is also not permitted. “Fans who refuse to comply will be removed from the stadium.”
If the pilot program is a success, and there is no breakout due to fans attending the game, Cuomo said it could serve as a blueprint for businesses moving forward with rapid COVID-19 testing as a key tool.
“If we can figure out how to use testing and rapid testing - some of these you can get the results within 20 minutes, then you can start to reopen businesses safely and smartly by using those rapid tests,” he noted. “If we have to wait six months … nine months … 12 months, rapid testing can help you reopen safely.”
Though the pilot program is being run for the Bills game, Cuomo said it could be a model for other businesses to use rapid testing, though indoor venues such as Madison Square Garden and Broadway theaters are less likely to be involved in a similar program soon.
“It’s all the difference in the world between an outdoor and an indoor venue,” Cuomo said. “The advantage is a stadium is a controlled venue, you can make sure you know who’s going in and out, and it’s outdoors.
“Indoors is a different question. Indoors is more difficult, it depends on the size of the building, the percentage of people being put in the building, and the air circulation,” he added. “This is just step one and then we’ll take it from there. The one key you have is rapid testing, so we will be aggressive in exploring.”
Cuomo also had a message for Bills fans who won’t be at the stadium, but may be inclined to gather to watch their favorite team in the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
“Bills fans - we’re taking these measures very seriously. We have made progress on the COVID virus in the past few weeks, but we want to keep those numbers down,” he said. “I get the mood, we’re all feeling the excitement, we’ve all wanted the Buffalo Bills to be good, it’s been a long time, and that team has a charisma and personality that is infectious.
“But we don’t want the fact that the Bills are in the playoffs to wind up being a negative in terms of COVID - so no mass tailgating, no mass gatherings, that’s not what we want to see.”
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