Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine agreed Tuesday to allow nearly 2,000 fans into the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse for Cleveland Cavaliers home games. That new max capacity, which represents 10% of the arena's seating, is a significant increase from the current total allowed at indoor sporting events statewide — 300 — but a far cry from the 4,500+ that the Cavs had requested in early November.
Before the NBA season was underway, the Cavs submitted a detailed proposal seeking the variance, highlighting extensive safety precautions and touting endorsements from a number of entities, including the city of Cleveland.
The wisdom of permitting fans indoors, even with state-of-the-art HVAC and so forth, is not clearly established. Indeed, even before the variance was granted, the Cavs were one of only seven NBA teams allowing fans inside arenas at all. Only three, the Houston Rockets, the Orlando Magic and the Toronto Raptors, (who are playing in Tampa, Fla. due to harsher restrictions on gatherings in Canada), are permitting more than 10% of their arenas' total capacities. The Cavs' request for 4,500+ would have put them at about 24%. (Not for nothing, but Texas and Florida are currently among the states with the worst Covid outbreaks
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and his turbulent department of public health endorsed the Cavs request. In a letter dated Nov. 4, obtained by Scene via public records request, Jackson celebrated the Cavs safety measures and said that their so-called "activation plan" met or exceeded all federal, state and local safety guidelines. He also saw fit to note that the plan had been approved by two certifying organizations which lent credibility to the Cavs' efforts.
"I am in support of the Cleveland Cavaliers and [their plan] because of its thoroughness and their proven ability to safely host events during the Covid-19 pandemic," Frank Jackson wrote in the letter addressed to Lance Himes, then the state's interim director of Health.
Per their 86-page plan, the Cavs made a number of improvements to clean the air in their facility, ensure social distancing among seated fans via computer algorithm, and keep nearly 400 staffers safe as they provided food and beverages to those in attendance.
And while Jackson's support is typical of his obeisance to business interests, the letter is nevertheless surprising, as it was presented to DeWine's health department in the midst of Ohio's most terrifying sustained spike in Covid cases.
On Nov. 3, a day before Jackson's letter was addressed, Ohio had eclipsed 4,000 daily cases for the first time. The case numbers had been rising steadily since mid-October and would continue to rise through the month of November.
The Cavs' precautions notwithstanding, that Jackson and his own department of public health
would endorse a plan that sought to bring nearly 5,000 people together indoors regularly, as the spread of the virus was at its most dangerous levels, boggles the mind.
The first week of the NBA season is now in the books, and the 3-1 Cavaliers have been playing to the state maximum of 300 fans at home. Increased fans will be permitted when the Cavs return to the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Jan. 11 to take on the Memphis Grizzlies. Statewide Covid numbers in recent days have been below the towering 21-day averages in both reported cases and deaths.
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