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Gov. Wolf relaxes spectator limits, will allow some fans at games

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
Central York vs West York during football action at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. Central York would win the game 38-14. Dawn J. Sagert photo

After months of back-and-forth battles between politicians and the courts, sports fans will be allowed to see their favorite teams in person after all this year, within limits.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday loosened his restrictions on venue gathering limits, which will allow spectators to attend games starting this weekend.

But it wasn't clear Tuesday how the change would affect high school sports throughout York County. 

For outdoor events with an occupancy of 0-2,000 people, a 25% occupancy is allowed. For outdoor events with an occupancy of 2,001-10,000 people, 20% of occupancy is allowed, and for events with over 10,000 occupancy, 15% occupancy is allowed, up to 7,500 people, Wolf said.

For a high school football stadium with a 2,000-seat capacity, that means 500 people can attend.

It also means the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and Penn State Nittany Lions can have 7,500 people in the stadiums for their games. The Steelers will host 5,500 fans on Sunday when they play the Eagles.

Penn State may allow family members to attend, but won't entertain fans as part of the Big Ten's return plan.

Indoor events with 0-2,000 people can have 20% occupancy. Indoor events with 2,001-10,000 capacity can have 15% occupancy and indoor events with over 10,000 capacity can have 10% occupancy, up to 3,750 people.

That means a high school gymnasium with a 1,000-seat capacity can have 200 people in the facility.

Venues must require event attendees to wear a mask and maintain social-distancing requirements.

The PIAA, which has repeatedly urged school districts to follow Wolf's more strict guidelines, released a statement after the updated spectator limits were announced. The statement detailed the new spectator limits and said that the priority when setting limits should be to ensure families can be in attendance to support and supervise athletes.

The announcement comes after a decision on Thursday by a federal appeals court restored the restriction limits of 250 people at outdoor events and 25 at indoor ones. This past month, a federal judge had ruled them unconstitutional. 

The new limits will make it more likely that parents will be able to attend the games of their children. That had become a hot-button issue in the state.

The original restrictions also survived an attempt to pass a bill that would allow school districts to decide for themselves how many people would be allowed to attend events. The state House originally passed the bill 155-47 on Sept. 2. But an attempt to override Wolf's veto on Sept. 23 failed in the House. 

Central York at Red Lion football, Friday, September 13, 2019
John A. Pavoncello photo

While many across the state were happy to hear the restrictions had been eased, joy wasn't the only emotion present on Tuesday. Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mount Pleasant Township, released a statement where he voiced his displeasure with the timing of the update.

“While I am happy that more families will be able to unite to watch their loved ones engaged in school sports and activities, I am frustrated by Gov. Wolf’s nonsensical actions," Reese wrote. "Fall sports have been ongoing for several weeks and had the administration been more responsive, this could have and should have been addressed in August.”

Republicans have been regular critics of Wolf's COVID-19 restrictions. 

Thursday's appeal ruling prevented multiple school districts in the area from increasing the number of fans allowed to attend games. Spring Grove planned to allow 665 spectators into its football stadium and 122 into its girls’ volleyball matches; West York's school board previously voted to increase crowd size to 25% of capacity for home athletic events inside and 50% for outside. Eastern York’s school board had voted to allow 312 spectators to attend football games and 108 spectators to attend girls’ volleyball matches.

West York planned an ad hoc meeting for Tuesday night to discuss the school district's plans for updating its spectator limit plan.

Administrators and athletic directors from multiple school districts in the area did not respond to requests to discuss their plans.

Wolf originally drew the ire of the scholastic sports community in August after he recommended that youth sports be postponed until 2021 when asked at an unrelated news conference about the potential for an increase to the outdoor limit for sports.

"The guidance from us, the recommendation is that we don't do any sports until Jan. 1," Wolf said.

That recommendation led to a delay in the fall sports season by the PIAA and constant confusion for school districts about how many spectators could attend games as the PIAA continues to tell schools to follow Wolf's restrictions.

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com. This story will be updated.