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Fans will return for Pens, Pirates

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Fans will soon return to pro sports venues whose stands have been empty for a year or more as Pennsylvania on Monday eased restrictions on large gatherings to reflect a sustained slide in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The state also is lifting restrictions on out-of-state travel and considering a plan to vaccinate teachers.

Monday’s developments came as Pennsylvania prepared to receive its initial allotment of doses of the newly approved, one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Under the relaxed gathering limits announced by Gov. Tom Wolf, outdoor venues are now allowed to host events up to 20% of their maximum capacity, while indoor occupancy will be 15% of maximum capacity, regardless of venue size.

“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.”

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 governing body for Pennsylvania interscholastic sports, meanwhile, said the relaxed statewide limits could pave the way for fans at winter sports playoff contests. The board of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association said it would discuss the matter at its meeting on Wednesday.

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.

Separately, the state is doing away with a requirement that people who are coming into Pennsylvania from out of state test negative prior to their arrival. Under the old order, people who did not get tested were supposed to quarantine for 14 days.

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.

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