Day by day, the end of the pandemic seems to get closer. The latest sign of a return to normalcy was Gov. Jay Inslee announcing that professional sports teams could start welcoming fans back to their respective outdoor stadiums within the next couple weeks. While plans have not yet been finalized, all signs points to a limited number of fans being allowed into Lumen Field and Cheney Stadium to see the home openers for both the Seattle Sounders and OL Reign.
In the case of the Sounders, at least, the number will almost surely only accommodate a relatively small percentage of their season-ticket holders. Even if the Sounders were to max out what the state is currently planning to allow — 9,000 — that would be only about 25% of their season-ticket base, which is believed to be in the 34,000 range.
Indications from the Sounders are that they probably won’t even allow that many in. No fans have attended a sporting event at Lumen Field in over a year, which suggests there will be some logistical challenges while they figure out the best way to accommodate fans safely. The science suggests this kind of activity is relatively safe as long as it outdoors and people are mostly masked and/or vaccinated, but getting in and out of the stadium or doing something like going to the bathroom will still involve a degree of risk.
Given all these considerations, I have a suggestion: Rather than set up something like a lottery and leave it to individual fans to assess their own risk tolerance — while still invariably failing to accommodate everyone who wants to be there — why not take this opportunity to show some gratitude to the people who did the most to help us get through this?
I’m talking about essential workers, with particular preference for those who work in the health-care and food-service industries. While plenty of others have been forced to make nearly impossible choices between their livelihoods and their health, these two categories of workers have been given virtually no choice but to be put in harm’s way throughout the pandemic. These two groups should also have full access to vaccines by the time the season opener rolls around on April 16.
At the same time, I hope the Sounders and fans both practice caution along this path that will hopefully lead to full stadiums as early as this summer. The way to help ensure that happens is to avoid turning a game into a super-spreader event. At the very least, I’d hope that masks are a condition of entry and that regulations around wearing them inside the stadium are clear. I also hope the Sounders are open-minded about spreading fans around the entirety of the stadium while granting credits to anyone who chooses not to attend or is forced to move to less desirable seats.
I realize that this is no small ask, but hopefully by removing pressure points that force fans to make uncomfortable choices that pit their pocketbooks against their good sense, the Sounders will be better off in the long run.
The return of fans to stadiums should be something we can all be allowed to feel good about; let’s do everything possible to make that a reality.