COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s major league sports teams beginning their seasons this spring could be allowed up to 30% of fan capacity under approved pandemic plans, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday.
Permitting 30% of fans into stadiums would be contingent on social distancing and continued mask wearing, the governor said. He planned a formal announcement Thursday. The expanded fan capacity would apply to the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds along with minor league baseball teams and the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati major league soccer clubs.
“We can do that if everyone is masked,” DeWine said, adding that the state has learned a lot from the experience of mask-wearing in schools. “Kids have been relatively close together and yet we’ve not seen the spread in classrooms.”
These plans could change if the coronavirus variant becomes dominant in Ohio by the end of next month, DeWine cautioned.
The governor said he is personally looking forward to watching baseball at the ballpark this summer, and he was on the phone with the Reds and the Indians the other day talking it through. He plans to Zoom with the minor league teams later this week.
The teams have been asked to submit plans to the state and their local health departments for review.
DeWine said he expects the plans to detail how fans will stick in their “pods,” and he said the organizations need to come up with ideas for mask enforcement and distancing when supporters are entering existing stadiums.
Not every team plans to allow that many fans. Minor league baseball’s Toledo Mud Hens announced Friday that the club will allow 1,500 fans per game — roughly 15% of the 10,300 seats at Fifth Third Field.
The Mud Hens plan to open at home on April 6 after seeing their entire 2020 season canceled. DeWine said he’s had extensive conversations with the Reds and Indians.
For Cleveland, 30% could mean as many as 10,000 fans in the city’s downtown ballpark, which holds more than 35,000.
On Saturday, The Ohio Department of Health approved of the Blue Jackets’ plan to allow 10% — nearly 2,000 — fans inside Nationwide Arena beginning March 2.
March 1, 2020 was the last time fans were allowed in. DeWine said it’s possible the Jackets will be able to increase their fan capacity down the road since the arena has a strong filter and AC system.
“There is a difference between a place like (Nationwide Arena), where they've invested some serious money in the air conditioning, heat operation, where the circulation is fairly fast in and out,” DeWine said. “Filters are there. I mean, that's a very different situation than maybe in a older gym, for example.”
Along with mandated masks, visitors to Nationwide Arena will have to go through a variety of precautions, including an online check sheet asking about symptoms, and groups will be seated six feet apart from each other in the stands. There are also strict precautions in place for bathrooms, escalators, and elevators.
DeWine warned that fan capacity could be rolled back at any moment in time depending on the spread of COVID-19 and other variants.