Eagles to begin hosting fans as restrictions eased on outdoor events

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said outdoor events are much safer, especially when everyone is wearing a mask.
PHOTO: Metro File

Larger outdoor events will soon be permitted in Philadelphia, officials said Tuesday, paving the way for the Eagles to allow fans at their game on Sunday.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said a maximum of 7,500 people, including players and staff, would be permitted at Lincoln Financial Field for the team’s 1 p.m. game against the Baltimore Ravens.

“It’s in the Eagles best interest to have this go off without a hitch, and I’m confident they can do that,” Mayor Jim Kenney told reporters.

The city released its new guidelines for indoor and outdoor gatherings Tuesday, a week after Gov. Tom Wolf issued an order expanding capacity at events statewide.

Philadelphia’s plan is more restrictive than the state guidance. Indoor venues will only be allowed to admit 10% of their fire code occupancy, up to a maximum of 250 people, Farley said.

In some cases, that will be even stricter than the city’s previous protocols, which limited indoor events to a maximum of 25 people, no matter the size of the venue.

Farley said officials are particularly worried about the spread of the virus at intimate gatherings indoors, such as weddings and funerals.

For outdoor gatherings, if the maximum occupancy is less than 2,000 people, organizers can open at 20%, and larger venues will be limited to 15% with a cap of 7,500. The new rules go into effect Friday.

There is a “much lower risk” outdoors, especially if everyone is wearing a mask, Farley said.

Previously, outdoor events had been restricted to 150 people in the city.

For stores, museums, gyms and other establishments, which had been limited to five customers per thousand square feet, that number will be bumped up to 10, officials said.

Temple University’s football team said it would only open the stadium to family members of players and coaches for its game Saturday at noon at the Linc. If all goes well, season ticket holders will get the chance to buy tickets for next month’s games.

The Eagles will begin selling single-game tickets to season ticket holders Wednesday for the clash against the Ravens, as well as for next Thursday’s game against the New York Giants, the organization said.

Fans will be spaced out in pods of up to six, and masks will be mandated, according to the team. Tailgating will remain prohibited, and people will need to show tickets to access the parking lots around the stadium.

Ticket holders will be assigned a gate to enter near their seat, and concessions will be open but cashless.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Philadelphia, officials said, with 145 new infections reported Tuesday.

Last week, the city averaged 158 cases a day and a positive test rate of 4.5%, above the prior week’s 126 cases and 4.3%.

There continues to be spread around college campuses and in certain neighborhoods, particularly in the Far Northeast and South Philadelphia, Farley said.

“The biggest problem with the spread of COVID is happening not at public events, but at social gatherings, typically among friends and relatives,” he said. “These are typically small, indoor gatherings of five to 20 people.”

Farley said 24 K-12 schools in the city that have been holding in-person classes have documented cases, and about half have had to implement quarantines. However, in all instances, officials believe students or staff contracted the virus at home or elsewhere.

Six vaccines backed by the federal government are either in the final stages of clinical trials or about to enter that stage, and the deployment of the first vaccines in Philadelphia may be just “weeks away,” Farley said.

“We hope to have small quantities of at least one vaccine for distribution in Philadelphia before the end of 2020,” he said.

Doses will initially go to people at extremely high risk for serious symptoms, like as nursing home residents, and people who work in those facilities, as well as home healthcare aides, he added.

Nursing home residents have accounted for half of all COVID-19-related deaths in Philadelphia, and officials estimate that about 50% of people living in assisted living facilities have contracted the virus.

That may be a good sign, as they will likely be more resistant to the virus in the future, Farley said.

Even so, the city plans to open a site by the end of the week where nursing home residents can stay if they test positive for the virus and their facility does not have enough space to keep them isolated.

The city is also working with Temple, Jefferson University and the University of Pennsylvania to provide training, testing and equipment to assisted living facilities to help them better handle the pandemic.

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