The San Francisco 49ers have not held a game at Levi’s Stadium since mid-March, 2020, but the NFL team’s top brass hopes to change that by convening top physicians from UCSF and beyond to recommend a plan for fans to reconvene at the Santa Clara stadium.
Among those medical experts are Dr. Robert Wachter, who chairs UCSF’s Department of Medicine and has become known for his prolific Twitter threads about the coronavirus during the pandemic; Drs. Monica Gandhi and Lillian Brown who both work in the HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine Division at UCSF and San Francisco General Hospital; and CommonSpirit Health CEO Lloyd Dean.
Brown says the 49ers, and the work that comes out of the advisory committee the team has assembled, could be a model to sports teams across the U.S
“The more groups that operate under public health best practices, the better,” she said. “Our aim is to produce important insights and determine protocols that can be used as standards for stadiums across the country.”
In-person spectating for professional sports in the Bay Area stopped March 16, 2020, when Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody issued the first shelter-in-place. Since then, the 49ers have held two of their “home games” at the State Farm Stadium in Arizona and at least seven players—including wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne and Deebo Samuel; linemen Arik Armstead, Hroniss Grasu and Trent Williams; and linebacker Joe Walker—were quarantined due to coronavirus concerns last year.
Today, Levi’s Stadium serves as California’s largest mass vaccination site, but there’s no indication yet when the stadium will make the shift from public health arena to sports stadium. But 49ers president Al Guido said using the stadium as a mass vaccination site was critical to ensuring fans’ safe return.
“We want to set the standard for safety,” Guido said. “The members of this committee have spent the past 12 months on the frontlines of the COVID response and we look forward to leveraging the depth of their experience.”
Santa Clara County has seen a decline in COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations. Cody said in a news release that the county could soon move into the “Red Tier,” a COVID-19 case status designated by the state that is less restrictive than the current “Purple Tier.” The county recently announced guidelines for indoor and outdoor youth and recreational sports, though collegiate and professional sports—where more vendors, security and other employees are needed to operate facilities—remain prohibited.
“I’m looking forward to working with the 49ers on these important issues,” Gandhi said. “We’ll need to make sure the return of fans not only protects the fans but is safe for everyone involved—including the employees of Levi’s Stadium and the local community.”
Despite the Covid-related scares, deaths and a response that came with an overhaul of most peoples’ way of life over the last year, Wachter says it’s only a matter of time before people will push to start gathering for in-person events, including live sports in stadiums both open-air and enclosed.
“It’s important that the way we do so is guided by science,” Wachter said. “It’s great to see Bay Area organizations like the 49ers taking the science seriously.”