Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith pulled no punches in rebuking state health officials after they released new guidelines that allow fans to attend outdoor professional sporting events in jurisdictions with low coronavirus infection rates.
Calling the state’s decision “quite dangerous,” Smith and his Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody pulled the plug on the possibility of fans being in attendance at San Francisco 49ers or San Jose Earthquakes games this year.
“This is the worst thing in the world to be doing at a time period when California is beginning to see some light,” he said. “This amounts to another step backwards. We’ve already done steps backwards in California that have cost tens of thousands of lives, and this would be another risk to do that.”
Had the county agreed with the state—which ruled that counties classified under the less restrictive “orange tier” could resume outdoor operations at 20 percent capacity—the 49ers could’ve conceivably had 13,600 fans go through the turnstiles at Levi’s Stadium for their next home game on Nov. 5 (the stadium has a capacity of 68,500).
Shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement, the 49ers released a statement that praised his “leadership and thoughtful approach in creating a framework that allows for a return of fans to Levi’s Stadium.”
Smith did the exact opposite, expressing befuddlement as to why the state would allow “superspreader events,” when one person in a large gathering could infect a large number of other individuals.
“I think Dr. Cody has consistently made decisions based on science and her expertise and the science simply does not support the concept of large congregations of individuals at the same time,” Smith said. “Right now the only method of treatment for Covid is to keep people apart, keep them masked, keep them socially distant. So it’s not really a matter of [drawing a] line in the sand, it’s a measure of reasonable scientific decision making instead of political decision making.”
Smith pointed to another surge in infections nationally as a good reason to stay vigilant in fighting the virus: “The fact is throughout the nation the virus is spiking,” he said. “Basically, all of the health experts in the nation that are respectable are predicting another spike in November and December. It’s going to get worse; it’s going to get a lot worse. Right now is not the time to be relaxing regulations.”
The 49ers and Earthquakes—the latter which released an almost carbon copy statement the 49ers produced in praising Newsom—are the only major professional sports teams in California residing in a county with less-restrictive guidelines.
The new rules don’t apply to the Bay Area’s two other major pro sports franchises, the San Jose Sharks and Golden State Warriors, because they play indoors (the state is not allowing fans at all indoor stadiums).
The Quakes would’ve been able to have 3,600 fans at 18,000-seat Avaya Stadium. Given the county’s stance, it’s highly unlikely fans will be allowed to attend games at the SAP Center—home of the Sharks—when the 2021 NHL season begins in January.
The Warriors face a similar situation, though they’re under the jurisdiction of San Francisco public health officials.
The state’s latest directive didn’t address college sports, making it unclear if fans will be allowed to attend college events. The exception is the Pac-12 Conference, which has already ruled out fans at games this season. Despite Santa Clara County’s restrictions—which are one of the toughest in the nation when it comes to reopening activities—the 49ers aren’t giving up hope that they’ll have fans in Levi’s Stadium this season.
In an interview on sports radio station KNBR 680 Wednesday, 49ers President Al Guido said he looks forward to having a dialogue with county officials and presenting a case whereby fans could return in a safe manner. Given Smith’s comments—which basically amounted to a 15-minute rebuke of state health officials—it’s hard to envision a scenario by which fans would be allowed into Levi’s.
“Now is not the time to start thinking of getting a lot of people together in one place,” Smith said, saying it “boggles the mind,” and is “unconscionable” to gather thousands of people for any event in the middle of a pandemic.
Interestingly enough, Smith seemed to take a dig at the 49ers in talking about the NFL team’s possible role in getting fans back into stadiums. It’s no secret that City of Santa Clara officials and those from the 49ers have been at odds for what seems like an eternity over stadium management issues.
“They [49ers] seemed to know about [the state’s] relaxation order before the public health officer knew, so I imagine they had been lobbying the state heavily,” Smith said.
With the inability to attend Bay Area pro sports events, die-hard sports fans like Andrew Barragan and Chris Narvajal have found different ways to enjoy the games. A Hollister resident, Barragan hopped on a plane to Texas on Wednesday to watch Game 2 of the World Series. After seeing his favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, lose 6-4, he was back on a plane Thursday morning returning to the Bay Area.
If the World Series extends to a Game 6, Barragan will get on a plane again to watch the game in person. He owns season tickets for the 49ers, A’s and Warriors and was a longtime Raiders season ticket-holder until they relocated to Las Vegas in the off-season.
Narvajal, a Fremont resident and senior manager at Salesforce, usually attends 30 games a year, split between the A’s and Warriors.
While he’s just as content watching sports from home as in person, there is one thing he dearly misses about the pre-stadium experience.
“What I do miss is the ambience,” he said. “Our tradition is tailgating at an A’s game. I’m missing that kind of interaction.”
But not enough to go under the Covid-19 climate.
“While they will put all the safety protocols in place [at pro sports events], there is still a chance you could get Covid,” he said. “For me having a family of six, I don’t want to bring that home. I’d rather be safe than sorry.”