RALEIGH, NC (AP) — College and professional sports teams in North Carolina may soon be allowed to host a few thousand fans in outdoor stadiums, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday.
If the state’s coronavirus numbers continue to improve or remain flat, Cooper said he plans to ease the occupancy restrictions for large outdoor entertainment venues starting Oct. 2.
Places that can seat more than 10,000 people outside would be able to operate at significantly reduced capacity, while adhering to the recommended 6 feet (1.8 meters) of physical distancing.
“We plan to take another step toward Phase 3 in the coming days if our progress holds,” Cooper said. “That step will mean larger outdoor event venues will be able to open at 7% capacity starting next Friday, Oct. 2.”
Under the updated executive order Cooper plans to announce next week, the Carolina Panthers, whose stadium can seat more than 75,000 people, would be able to host over 5,000 fans.
Some sports teams have already received permission from the state to have a small number of fans in the stands. North Carolina State University and other college football programs across the state were able to have two parents per player — up to 350 people — attend games last weekend. Cooper’s easing of Phase 2 reopening restrictions would allow even more people to attend games if they are masked and physically distant from another.
Bubba Cunningham, director of athletics for UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a statement that he wants the state to continue allowing more fans into games.
“We are thrilled that we will be able to start welcoming spectators back to Kenan Stadium in October, and we are hopeful that the number of people allowed in our stadiums will safely increase as fall progresses,” Cunningham wrote.
During Tuesday’s news conference, the governor also said he would get a COVID-19 vaccine once the Food and Drug Administration approves it and it’s his turn to receive it after essential workers.
In the meantime, he wants North Carolinians to get flu shots in preparation for a possible surge in coronavirus spread during the fall and winter months, which many infectious disease experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have predicted.
“We’ve got to make sure that we continue our efforts getting people vaccinated, not only for COVID-19 when it comes but all other diseases that are out there,” Cooper said.
North Carolina reported a coronavirus positivity rate on Tuesday approaching the state’s goal of 5%, with 5.4% of COVID-19 tests coming back positive. The rate was as low as 4.6% last week. The state’s daily case count has steadily declined since the start of September, while the number of active hospitalizations in the state has held steady around 900.