Gov. Wolf's decision to ease restrictions will allow more fans into Pa. sporting events

Gov. Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf has opened the door for more sports fans to attend athletic events in Pennsylvania.

Just as the District 3 basketball playoffs are getting started, Wolf has expanded capacity limits for indoor and outdoor events in the state.

Monday, Wolf expanded the number of people allowed in a building to 15% of the building's capacity for indoor events as long as social distancing can be observed by everyone. That applies to indoor venues of all sizes.

Under Wolf's previous order, occupancy limits were based on size, such as 10% capacity for indoor venues that fit under 2,000 people, and 5% capacity for venues with a 2,001- to 10,000-person maximum occupancy.

“We need to balance protecting public health with leading the state to a robust economic recovery,” Wolf said in a news release. “We are lifting mitigation efforts only when we believe it is safe to do so.”

For both indoor and outdoor events, venues must require masks and follow physical distancing guidelines, state officials said. Venues will be permitted to seat spectators in groups of up to 10, or more than 10 if everyone lives in the same household. Seating pods must be separated by at least 6 feet.

State officials said they took into account the expanding percentage of residents who have been vaccinated, as well as the COVID-19 test positivity rate, the rate of new infections and hospital capacity, in deciding to ease restrictions.

The move should allow more fans to attend high school playoff basketball games over the coming weeks. The 5 percentage-point addition might not sound like much, but consider that a gym that holds 1,000 could only accommodate 100 people. Now, the place can take 50 more fans.

 “PIAA is very appreciative of these changes and will attempt to provide as much in-person attendance at PIAA winter sports’ postseason contests as possible while complying with the new restrictions," said PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi in a statement Monday.

The statement also read, "PIAA will review their upcoming winter sports’ post-season events and capacities with site administrators and make all best efforts to accommodate schools’ and their families. These revised restrictions may allow some public sale of tickets based upon occupancy and social distancing restrictions. The PIAA Board of Directors will discuss these topics and other items at its upcoming Wednesday meeting."

The Giant Center in Hershey gave the PIAA a maximum of 500 people for the wrestling and basketball championships later this month, but that number could now increase. The Giant Center's capacity is just more than 10,000, which could open the door for 1,500 folks in the building.

Wolf also expanded the outdoor limits to 20%, which doubles the amount of people that can be at many facilities.

For example, the 7,500-capacity PeoplesBank Park, the home of the York Revolution, would now be allowed to have approximately 1,500 folks in the stadium, including fans, players and staff.

The Revs are scheduled to open their Atlantic League season on May 28. 

Impact on pro sports: The move will also have an impact on the major pro sports franchises in Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Penguins said it would allow 2,800 fans into PPG Paints Arena for Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. It will be the Pens’ first home game with fans since a victory over Montreal on March 8, 2020.

Pittsburgh Pirates President Travis Williams said opening day at PNC Park “will be much more than a game. It will mark a significant step in overcoming this pandemic.”

In Philadelphia, the Wells Fargo Center said it would quickly allow fans into Flyers and 76ers games if city officials give the go-ahead.

“We’re ready to safely welcome fans back to Broad Street, and as soon as the city further eases its restrictions, we will have Flyers and 76ers fans in the building within days,” said Valerie Camillo, president of business operations for the Flyers and Wells Fargo Center.

James Garrow, spokesperson for the city health department, said Monday that officials are studying what needs to be done to “bring Philadelphia into alignment with the state.”

The Erie Times-News, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Associated Press contributed to this story.