The San Francisco 49ers launched a medical advisory team aimed at reopening Levi’s Stadium to fans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team says the committee, made up of several prominent Bay Area health officials, will make safety recommendations that will allow for the return of fans to Levi’s Stadium. While the committee’s findings are right now intended to advise the 49ers, findings will be offered to other NFL teams and businesses in the future as a guide to reopening.
“The only way we are going to achieve our mission of a safe reopening is by following the science and listening to the experts,” said Rahul Chandhok, a spokesman for the 49ers. “That’s why we’re announcing this committee — so that our plans are informed by best practices and powered by the latest in public health expertise regarding COVID-19.”
The committee includes Dr. Robert Wachter, department of medicine chair at University of California San Francisco; Lloyd Dean, CEO of CommonSpirit Health; Dr. Monica Gandhi, division chief of the infectious disease department at San Francisco General Hospital; and Dr. Lillian Brown, also from San Francisco General’s infectious diseases department.
“I’m happy to be working with the 49ers on this,” Wachter said. “We’ll eventually be returning to in-person events including live sports and it’s important that the way we do so is guided by science.”
Wachter also said that it’s good to see Bay Area organizations “taking the science seriously.”
The 49ers recently partnered with Santa Clara County to open the largest COVID-19 vaccine site in the state at Levi’s Staidum, with capacity to administer more than 15,000 doses per day. Chandhok said that the 49ers want to continue similar work in the community with this new committee.
“We are also aware that equity has to be at the heart of any reopening plans for Levi’s Stadium,” Chandhok said. “We cannot leave anyone behind and the experience has to be a safe one for everyone involved: the fans, players, employees and the local community servicing Levi’s.”
The stadium, which hosted eight home games and numerous live events and concerts, has been shuttered since November.
It is unclear how reopening plans would impact the stadium’s vaccine site. Officials from Santa Clara County’s public health department declined to comment.
The vaccination site is largely run by county health officials, not by the NFL team. County officials also declined comment on whether the county would be interested in receiving the committee’s findings.
Many football stadiums across the country have already allowed fans to return to games during the 2020-21 season, often depending on rules and guidance in their respective states. That includes the Miami Dolphins, which allowed up to 13,000 fans to attend home games, and the Cleveland Browns, which allowed 12,000 fans to show up.
The Minnesota Vikings only allowed about 250 spectators last season, who were mainly friends and family of team personnel. Other teams that allow a limited number of fans include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, among others.
Some, such as the Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers, have not resumed in-person games.
Santa Clara County health orders enacted in November prohibited contact sports, forcing the 49ers to play their last few games of the season in Arizona. Santa Clara County deferred to the state’s guidance on sports in January, lifting the ban on sports and allowing games to continue without fans.
The San Jose Sharks have played indoors since January without fans.
Santa Clara County is still in the state’s most-restrictive purple tier for reopening, which prohibits attendees at professional sports. The county could move into the red tier as soon as Wednesday, but fans would still be prohibited.
When Santa Clara County eventually moves into California’s orange tier, the 49ers can welcome 20% of stadium capacity with significant restrictions.
Fans within 120 miles would be allowed, and concessions would be limited to in-seat sales only.
At capacity, Levi’s Stadium can accommodate about 68,500 fans. Stadiums that have opened have allowed a small percentage, between 10% and 20% of fans at each game. Twenty percent of the stadium’s capacity would accommodate 13,700 fans.
“The more groups that operate under public health best practices, the better,” said Brown of San Francisco General Hospital. “I think the 49ers’ approach to be as open as possible with other teams interested in a safe return to their stadiums is great. Our aim is to produce important insights and determine protocols that can be used as standards for stadiums across the country.”