Local News

Fans can soon return to football games, outdoor concerts in NC

Posted September 22, 2020 2:21 p.m. EDT
Updated September 23, 2020 7:44 a.m. EDT

— Outdoor entertainment venues in North Carolina can soon reopen for fans.

Gov. Roy Cooper said venues that seat at least 10,000 people can begin operating at 7 percent capacity on Oct. 2, which is when his current executive order on coronavirus pandemic restrictions expires.

"We do believe that outdoor events are safer than indoor events," Cooper said at a news conference.

Under existing restrictions, no more than 50 people can be gathered for an outdoor event. That forced some college football games to be held without fans, although Cooper's administration allowed parents of North Carolina State University players to attend the game at Carter-Finley Stadium last Saturday as long as they followed social distancing guidelines.

The 7 percent limit would allow 5,278 fans at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, home of the Carolina Panthers; 4,030 fans at Carter-Finley; 3,570 fans at Kenan Stadium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and 2,800 fans at Duke University's Wallace Wade Stadium.

For concerts, 1,442 people could attend at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek.

"When we ease restrictions, that means our efforts are working," Cooper said, noting that the number of new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations have remained stable in recent weeks.

The 10,000-seat threshold was set to ensure the venues have "plenty of space for social distancing," he said. Red Hat Amphitheater in downtown Raleigh wouldn't qualify to reopen under the planned restrictions because it seats only 6,000. Likewise, Dix Park and other open areas that hold festivals but have no fixed seating wouldn't qualify.

By not implementing the change this weekend, Cooper said he was giving the venues more than a week to prepare for reopening – printing and selling tickets for socially distanced seating and figuring out which entrances to use so fans cannot congregate in one area – and his public health staff more time to track the virus' trends in the state.

"I think it’s fantastic, and I think it’s time," said Pam Schimko, who got to watch her son play for N.C. State last weekend and hopes to attend more games. "I definitely think it is a big deal, and although there were only a few of us there last Saturday, it matters."

N.C. State spokesman Fred Demarest said details of how fans can attend the next Wolfpack home game are still being worked out.

"We have ongoing internal conversations in terms of configuration and process," Demarest said in an email. "Much of the legwork for this was done in advance of the season, but now we have a percentage to work off."

Duke plans to continue playing its football games without fans, Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations Mike Schoenfeld said.

"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," UNC-Chapel Hill Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement.

The Carolina Panthers are set to host the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium on Oct. 4 with fans in the stands after opening the season on Sept. 13 without fans.

"We have worked for months to develop and implement a responsible and comprehensive plan for the return of fans, and we are confident that it will ensure that your game day experience is enjoyable and as safe as possible," the Panthers said in a statement. "As much as our staff is in place to keep you safe, you play a key role as well. We ask that you understand the new protocols before coming to the game and do your part to keep physically distant and wear your mask."

The Panthers' plan includes arrows on the ground throughout the stadium to indicate one-way traffic flow, from parking lots to concessions, minimal contact in transactions and masks for everyone there.

LiveNation, which operates Coastal Credit Union Music Park in Raleigh, couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday about any concerts that might be scheduled there this fall.

But not everyone feels comfortable going to a concert right now.

"If they’re not having masks on from the beginning of the concert to the end, it’s not safe. I wouldn’t chance it," said Kesha Covington, of Raleigh. "We came this far. I would wait till next year. I would really wait till next year just to see the outcome."

"I’d be comfortable going to it as long as proper precautions are being made," said Brett Messier, of Raleigh. "You can only do so much. Obviously, no system is perfect when it comes to this kind of stuff.

"Hopefully, one day, we can go back to without having to worry about something like this happening," he added.

Cooper said he might announce other moves regarding pandemic restrictions next week as the expiration of his existing order approaches.

"We're continuing to analyze the data and are making decisions about that," he said.

Small businesses get rent, utility help

Cooper also said Tuesday that his administration has set aside $40 million in federal funds to help small businesses pay mortgage, rent and utility bills.

The Mortgage, Utility and Rent Relief fund, administered by the state Department of Commerce, can provide up to $20,000 in relief for each qualifying business location. Business applicants from certain industry sectors that weren't able to operate between April 1 and July 31 because of the pandemic can apply for up to two of their locations.

Eligible applicants include the following:

  • Amusement parks
  • Banquet halls (with catering staff)
  • Bars, taverns, nightclubs and cocktail lounges
  • Bingo parlors
  • Bowling alleys
  • Dance halls
  • Indoor fitness and recreation centers
  • Movie theaters (except drive-ins)
  • Museums

Businesses can apply for up to four months of mortgage interest or rent expenses, along with utility expenses. Applications to the program should open next week and will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Applicants must certify that they were closed, they expect to be able to operate after the crisis has passed and they haven't been reimbursed by any other federal source for the expenses for which they seek reimbursement.

"Substantially more help is needed for small businesses, and Congress and the president must act as soon as possible," Cooper said.