Governor sticks to plan for Buffalo Bills game as a reopening test

— Photo from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office
The state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, left, and Governor Andrew Cuomo discuss a plan for the Buffalo Bills to play in a stadium with under 7,000 fans under strict COVID-19 protocols.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is continuing to support a “pilot plan” to have the Buffalo Bills host its first home playoff game since 1977 under strict COVID-19 protocols.
“Now this is not just about attending a football game. I want people to understand we are trying to find a way to reopen businesses and use our technology to reopen businesses,” said Cuomo at his press conference on Monday. “It is not going to be an option for us to keep the economy closed until the vaccine hits critical mass.”

Some experts say herd immunity won’t be achieved until June while others say September and still others are saying the end of 2021, Cuomo reported.

“If you wait to hit critical mass for the vaccine, you are talking about closing the economy for six, nine, 12 months going forward,” Cuomo said. “If it goes to 12 months, that means a longer period than since this began. That is not possible. It’s not possible economically, psychologically. It’s just not possible.”

The plan, as Cuomo first explained it on Dec. 23, is to have the state’s health department work with the Bills in setting up a model on safe reopening.

This is a global challenge, Cuomo had said in announcing the plan. “And there will be winners and losers through this period. And that’s the really smart long-term vision that we have to have in this state.”

“Can you reopen venues using rapid testing? Ancillary question: Can you reopen venues using vaccinated people? ...” asked Cuomo. “That’s the question the Department of Health has been analyzing because I want to speak to it in the State of the State,” he said of the speech he’ll give at the start of the new year. “But we’re looking to test a hypothesis.”

The state’s health department is working with the Bills on “a demonstration project,” said Health Commissioner Howard Zucker at the Dec. 23 press conference.

Spectators will be admitted to the stadium — 6,700 of them, kept at a distance — only if they have tested negative for COVID-19. The stadium normally holds over 71,000 people.

Any fans not wearing masks will be ejected. Partying before, during, or after the game is banned. Contact racing will be conducted after the game.

“It’s a public-health model that’s never been done anywhere in the country before,” said Zucker.

Cuomo said on Monday that the state has no shortage of rapid tests.

“We have rapid testing that we provide to any nursing home, any county, any local government, free of charge, as much as they request we can provide,” he said. “We have never not provided an amount of rapid testing that has been requested by a local government, local department of health.”

Cuomo went on, “So it’s not that we have a shortage of rapid tests, but we do have to have a model that shows we can start to reopen businesses.”

He said the questions the state is trying to answer are: “Can you do it? Can you use testing to reopen a business safely? And can you do it on a large scale, which would be the Bills?”

He added, “Also, many stadiums across the country are already open, and without any testing whatsoever. But the model DOH is working on is smart. How do you use testing to start to reopen businesses? Because that is going to be the challenge in 2021, and we’re still working through that.”

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