Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has announced new guidelines for gatherings under the COVID-19 pandemic that are directly tailored to sports events and based on percentage of venue capacity.
Wolf announced the new standards at a press conference Tuesday morning. They replace the former recommendation of no more than 250 people at outdoor gatherings and no more than 25 at indoor gatherings.
The new standard: For indoor gatherings, 20 percent of capacity for venues with a capacity is 0-2,000 people; 15 percent for capacities of 2,001-10,000, and 10 percent, to a maximum of 3,750, for facilities holding over 10,000.
Outdoor gatherings: 25 percent of capacity for facilities holding 0-2,000, 20 percent for facilities holding 2,001-10,000, and 15 percent, to a maximum of 7,500, for facilities holding over 10,000.
The new guidance will be a major change for high school sports in the commonwealth. It formally takes affect at noon Friday. There are 28 scheduled Lancaster-Lebanon League events Friday.
School districts have the authority to create their own COVID-19 health and safety plans, but many have stayed within Wolf’s 25/250 standard. Others have allowed limited spectators, but generally fewer that the new guidelines would permit.
Now they’re scrambling to interpret the new guidance and establish new protocols.
McCaskey athletic director Jon Mitchell said Tuesday he, “had been told to start developing alternative plans in case our board does something.’’
The School District of Lancaster directors had a regularly-scheduled meeting Tuesday night.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body of most high school sports in the Commonwealth, has had no recent discussions with Wolf.
PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi sent Wolf a letter Aug. 28 recommending allowing 25 percent of capacity for indoor and outdoor sports events.
“I would hope the letter had some impact, but we haven’t talked to them since then,’’ Lombardi said Tuesday.
The PIAA board of directors meets Wednesday. Lombardi said he aspects discussion of the new guidelines.
He mentioned a section of a FAQ on the guidelines on Wolf’s web site that seems to permit tweaking capacity to get more fans in games. It reads in part:
“... venues that have a maximum occupancy that is between 2,001-2,664 and 10,001-15,000 may voluntarily reduce their occupancy load to align with the lower bracket. For example, a venue with a capacity of 1,800 occupants will be able to operate with 360 people on site using the 20% guideline. A slightly larger venue that has a capacity of 2,100 is permitted 315 occupants at the 15% guideline. Venues that fall into that situation may voluntarily reduce their occupancy load to align with the lower bracket and use that occupancy percentage.”
“That sounds to me like they’re telling you you can fudge your capacity,’’ Lombardi said.
“I’m certain (the directors) will have some questions.''
Lancaster-Lebanon League Executive Director Ron Kennedy said he met Monday with the league’s sports chairman to begin discussing venues and spectator policies for L-L playoffs, which will be held this fall in field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer and girls’ volleyball.
“We were looking at a league volleyball final with no spectators,’’ Kennedy said. “Now, we will probably look to get it in the biggest venue we have. It’s a victory. It definitely gives us some flexibility.’’
The guidelines also affect college and pro sports.
Penn State opens its football season at Indiana Oct. 24. Its first home game will be Oct. 31 with Ohio State.
In a press conference Sept. 17, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said the Big Ten Conference is prohibiting fans in the stands at its games, with the exception of players' families and staff members as allowed by local authorities.
Also, 7,500 spectators will be permitted at the Steelers vs. Eagles NFL game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Sunday.
According to WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh, the Steelers informed season ticket holders last Friday to be on alert in case Wolf decided to allow fans.