The United States has just held its first major sporting event with a full crowd in over a year, with almost 40,000 fans flooding into Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas for a Major League Baseball game despite the ongoing danger of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Texas Rangers sold 38,283 tickets for their first home game of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays.
No other venue in the MLB is currently allowing full crowds, with most limiting attendance to about a quarter of their capacity. The league’s other Texas-based team, the Houston Astros, has set an unusually high limit of 50 per cent.
Last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott rescinded his state’s mask mandate and said all businesses, including sport and concert venues, could reopen at 100 per cent.
Some precautions were taken yesterday. For example, the stadium’s rules required all fans to wear face masks “except while actively eating or drinking” – though images from yesterday’s game showed many did not comply.
Opening game for the Texas Rangers. Today. Every person there, who isn’t vaccinated is an abject idiot! pic.twitter.com/ZtVRErvclg
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) April 5, 2021
Other safety measures included a “deep cleaning of utilised spaces and seating areas” before and after the game, some cleaning of “high traffic spaces” during it, and “safe distancing” rules for people standing in lines.
Fans were asked not to attend if they or any member of their group had been exposed to COVID-19 or was feeling sick.
“COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. An inherent risk of COVID-19 exists in any public place regardless of precautions that may be taken,” the Rangers stressed.
Public health experts in the US, including Centres of Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, have expressed concern that some states are rescinding their coronavirus restrictions too quickly.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat representing Texas’s 18th district, labelled the Rangers’ huge crowd a “disaster”.
“I’m a great sports fan of all of our teams across the state,” Ms Jackson told CNN.
“But I think it was a disaster, and I’m enormously disappointed, and it was a wrong confrontation in the face of reality.”
Last week, President Joe Biden urged state governors to reimpose mask mandates and stop relaxing other restrictions.
“This is deadly serious,” Mr Biden said.
“This is not a time to lessen our efforts. We could still see a setback in the vaccination program.
“If we let our guard down now we could see a virus getting worse, not better. People are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing.
“Now is not the time to let down. Now’s not the time to celebrate. It is time to do what we do best as a country: our duty, our jobs. Take care of one another.
“I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Please, this is not politics.
“Reinstate the mandate if you let it down. And businesses should require masks as well. The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us in this mess in the first place, (it) risks more cases and more deaths.”
The US is still averaging more than 60,000 new COVID infections each day, though that is significantly better than the peak of 250,000 it reached in January.
Texas is averaging 3000 cases a day, and has yet to experience any discernible surge in the wake of Mr Abbott’s decision last month.
Speaking to MSNBC today, Dr Anthony Fauci downplayed the danger of a fourth wave hitting across the country, suggesting the progress America has made in vaccinating its population would be enough to prevent one.
“As long as we keep vaccinating people efficiently and effectively, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Dr Fauci said.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re not still going to see increases in cases. Whether it explodes into a real surge or not remains to be seen. I think that the vaccine is going to prevent that from happening.”
On that front, there is more good news.
Later today, Mr Biden will announce that the US has administered more than 150 million vaccinations since he took office on January 20.
He will also move forward the deadline for all American adults to be eligible for a vaccine from May 1 to April 19.