Meck Co. health director continues talks with Panthers about fan access at games: ‘We are not there’

Meck Co. health director continues talks with Panthers about fan access at games: ‘We are not there’
At least a portion of a Carolina Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium could be watched from the 35th floor of the Mint Tower. (John D. Simmons | The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Carolina Panthers are scheduled to kick off its season in just over a week.

Still, due to the coronavirus, there’s no telling when fans will be permitted back into Bank of America Stadium.

Home games bring in thousands of fans from out of town, and out of state, to a Charlotte venue that has a seating capacity of 75,000.

While ultimately, North Carolina leaders make decisions based on crowds filing into stadiums, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris and her staff is constantly talking to the Panthers about the plans of one day entertaining fans inside the stadium.

The Panthers will play its season opener on Sept. 13 against the Las Vegas Raiders inside Bank of America Stadium without spectators.

Harris says it could be a while before those stadium seats will be filled.

“The plans that they’ve written are very solid plans and could be really beneficial when we are at a point where we are ready to have those types of gatherings in our community,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, we are not there at this point.”

Harris said gatherings for Panthers games go beyond just inside the stadium, which crowd mitigation can somewhat be controlled.

However, she said the Panthers can’t control pregame and postgame gatherings, as well as folks packing in tightly on the light rail.

“There are many things to consider here, and based on the state’s decision, we are supportive of the fact that we are not having spectators in the stadium at this point,” Harris said.

Harris said the Mecklenburg County Health Department will continue to discuss fans at the stadium with state leaders and the Panthers.

As of Friday, Mecklenburg County has had more than 26,100 people test positive for the virus.

There has not been a decision made yet on the Panthers second home game which will not be played until Oct. 4.

The team says, despite bet efforts, they are “deeply disappointed” to share this news with fans.

“We will not allow an empty stadium to affect our performance on the field, but your presence gives us an undeniable edge,” A statement on the Panthers website reads.

The team says they have worked tirelessly since March to develop and implement a responsible, comprehensive plan to ensure fans’ game day experience is enjoyable and as safe as possible.

Based on the guidelines outlined in Phase 2 of North Carolina’s reopening plan, and a health and safety plan, the Panthers say they are confident they can safely host a limited number of fans at some point during the season.

“This is not a choice between a full stadium or an empty stadium. We have offered compromises and alternatives,” part of the statement read.

The Panthers staff says they will continue reaching out to government officials regarding options for future games.

Safety measures the team is prepared to implement include a face covering requirement and temperature checks for all fans and staff as well as enhanced cleaning procedures.

The team has also planned for and tested new ways for fans to enter and move safely around Bank of America Stadium.

Honeywell, a Charlotte-based world leader in developing solutions for major venues and events, has customized PPE packs with Panthers fans in mind and is deploying solutions to monitor air quality throughout the facility, the team says.

In addition, the Panthers say infectious disease experts have shared scientific data to inform their decisions and fill critical gaps in mitigating the spread of the virus.

“We recognize the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and will follow guidelines outlined by government and public health officials. And, we will continue to seek alternatives regarding the return of fans for the 2020 season and will share updates as appropriate,” the statement reads.

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