ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The New York health commissioner is considering whether to allow 6,700 fans to attend a rare Buffalo Bills home playoff game if all attendees are tested beforehand.
But nothing has been finalized yet, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a spokesperson for the Bills. The playoffs begin the weekend of Jan. 9, but the date of the game isn’t set.
“The devil is often in the details,” Cuomo said. “We would like to do it.”
Cuomo believes New York would be the nation’s first state to try such a plan, which would include contact tracing after the game. “This could be the beginning to show how you could have events with testing," he said.
His budget director, Bob Mujica, said the football team would control entry and exit into a socially distanced stadium where fans without masks would be ejected.
But Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said he’s worried about encouraging “ancillary events” — potential postgame and pregame events that could cause spikes of their own.
“How do we control that?” Zucker said. “That is really the question.”
And the idea is getting pushback in a region that’s been hit hard by an uptick in COVID-19 in recent months.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said that his administration hasn’t been part of any discussions about the idea and that it hasn’t come up on recent calls with state officials. And he said the county doesn’t have the capacity to do rapid testing on 6,700 individuals, typically performing 1,450 tests a week.
A decision would need to be made by the middle of next week to prepare for a game just over two weeks from now, he said.
The Bills have clinched their first AFC East title since 1995. They will host a playoff game for the first time since a 30-27 wild-card playoff loss to Jacksonville on Dec. 28, 1996, in what proved to be Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s final game.
The team's fans would undoubtedly be excited at the chance, with hundreds coming out to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport late Saturday night to greet the players and celebrate their victory.
“That was incredible," said Bills coach Sean McDermott. “Always nice when you get home in the middle of the night and it’s as cold as it was and the fans are out there to welcome us home, just special."
Asked Monday about fans being at the stadium for the game, McDermott said he appreciated state officials being open to considering it.
“I know we would love to have the opportunity to have fans," he said.
Wawrow reported from Buffalo.