Jam-packed stadiums and arenas in Pennsylvania will signify the true end of the COVID-19 pandemic for sports fans and officials.
That possibility drew close Tuesday, with the announcement by Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, that all COVID-19 restrictions, with the exception of mask-wearing, will be lifted on Memorial Day.
Capacity restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, and on gatherings in bars and restaurants, will go away May 31, more than a year into the pandemic.
That means that, pending further notice, Penn State will not be prohibited by the state from putting 107,000 people in Beaver Stadium for football games in the fall.
State playoff games in high school spring sports - baseball and softball, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, and boys’ volleyball - that are scheduled for June could be played before full-capacity crowds.
The PIAA Track and Field Championships, scheduled for May 28-29 at Seth Grove Stadium at Shippensburg University, won’t make the deadline.
“We’re going to do what we’ve done all along, which is follow the directives from the state’’ Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Lombardi said Tuesday.
“I’m sure the (PIAA board of directors) will address this when it meets at the end of the month, so we’ll see what happens, but I feel like this news is a good thing for everybody.’’
The state championship games in baseball, softball and volleyball are scheduled to be played at Penn State facilities, with the lacrosse finals set at West Chester East High School.
“We’ve had some preliminary conversations (about spectators) with Penn State and said, ‘Let’s talk more as we get close,’ ’’ Lombardi said.
The change also makes more tangible a return to full normalcy for the 2021-22 school year.
“It’s light at the end of the tunnel,’’ said Lancaster-Lebanon League Executive Director Ron Kennedy. “It could be a road map for the fall.
“On the other hand, things can change so quickly. Maybe this is the final answer. I hope it is. But we’ve learned not to hang our hat on anything.’’
Individual school boards and administrations, and local governments, may still set and maintain spectators limits and other COVID-19 restrictions.
Before Tuesday’s announcement, the limit on gatherings was 50 percent of capacity for outdoor venues and 25 percent for indoor venues.
But because of tighter restrictions imposed by the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Phillies have been allowing crowds of 10-11,000 in Citizens Bank Park, capacity 43,035.
The Flyers and Sixers have had crowds in the 3,000 range at the Wells Fargo Center, which seats 21,000.
Penn State allowed just about 7,500 spectators to attend the two spring football scrimmages that were open to the public last month, even though they could have allowed roughly 50,000 within the state restrictions.
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said, in a letter to football season-ticket holders last month, that the athletic department has also developed a fallback plan that calls for a limit of about 20,000 at football games with pod-seating options.
"We continue to plan for a full stadium scenario throughout the 2021 season,’’ Barbour said in the letter, “while monitoring local, state and national guidelines as we understand there may be prevailing health and safety guidelines that could affect crowd sizes.’’
Spectators will remain masked, at last for a while. The state Department of Health said Tuesday that a requirement to wear masks outside one’s home will be lifted once 70% of Pennsylvanians aged 18 and older are fully vaccinated.
According to the Center for Disease Control, as of Monday morning 50.3 percent of Pennsylvania’s entire population had received at least a first dose of the vaccine.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing federal data, reported Tuesday that 42 percent of adults in the state were fully vaccinated, and 63 percent of adults had at least one dose.