During a September 8 press conference updating Coloradans on the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Jared Polis and Brittany Bowlen of the Denver Broncos jointly announced that more than 5,000 fans will be able to attend the NFL squad's second home game, the Sunday, September 27, contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by newly acquired veteran quarterback Tom Brady.
Before that announcement, Polis mentioned 187 new positive cases of the novel coronavirus, a lower-than-usual number that he attributed to the holidays; he posited that plenty of folks are probably being tested today in the wake of Labor Day weekend. He then shifted toward the headline topic by way of this question: "How do we do what we love, namely watch the Broncos, in a way that's also reasonably safe?"
After a pause, Polis pronounced that "this virus can defeat us in two ways, One is it can obviously hospitalize us, cause illness, destroy health and, in some cases, also cost our lives. But it can also win by defeating our spirit." And in his view, the opportunity to attend large events such as Broncos games "are part of that spirit."
As a result, 5,700 fans — representing less than 7.5 percent capacity for Empower Field at Mile High, where the Broncos play — will be allowed admission to the September 27 game; the majority will be season-ticket holders, though some half-price tickets will also be available. These individuals will be divided into multiple groups of 175, the maximum number of people allowed at an event under current rules established by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Each 175-person cohort will have separate entrances and be limited to the same concession stands and restroom facilities. That way, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, only the members of the cohort in question will need to be notified by contact tracers, as opposed to 5,000-plus fans.
After sharing these details, Polis introduced Bowlen, daughter of late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and the family member favored by the trust running the team right now — despite objections from Pat's brother Bill Bowlen and daughter Beth Bowlen. Currently the team's vice president of strategic initiatives, Bowlen stressed that the game won't be an example of business as usual: Those in attendance must wear masks and remain seated in what she called "small pods."
After pointing out that the franchise's management has been working on its game plan for three months in conjunction with state officials, Bowlen added, "Our organization is hopeful that this is the start of gradually increasing fans at Broncos games this season." Polis, too, endorsed this goal.
As for the Broncos' first home game, on Monday, September 14, against the Tennessee Titans, Polis said that attendance would be limited to family members of players and a few special guests to allow stadium management to work out any kinks prior to the September 27 face-off with Brady and the Bucs.
This wasn't the only sports news. Polis also pledged the state's cooperation should the board for the Colorado High School Activities Association decide at a meeting this evening to shift gears and approve staging fall sports such as football games, as long as the move doesn't get in the way of opening and operating schools for the larger student body.
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The CDPHE's Sarah Tuneberg also made a presentation about a subject that deserved more time in the spotlight than it received: a partnership with Google and Apple to provide access to COVID-19 exposure notification technology for mobile phone users. The interface, which will work for owners of both iPhone and Android devices, will automatically contact individuals who've been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive to the virus, after which they will be directed to test sites and provided with information about quarantining and the like. The system, which should be up and running late this month, is free to users and the state as a whole, and both Tuneberg and Polis emphasized that it will protect the privacy of residents (no personal data will be shared), who can choose to opt in or not.
Despite this groundbreaking step, the first questions voiced by journalists involved the Broncos — specifically social media grumbling that the team is being treated differently from other large venue owners, including the owners of Bandimere Speedway, which filed suit against Polis and other entities following a controversial "Stop the COVID Chaos" rally on September 1.
Polis denied favoritism and argued that any large venue could do as the Broncos have done — figure out a way to invite in more attendees while also obeying public-health rules. Bowlen seconded that emotion while again emphasizing that the team had worked closely with the state, with the clear implication that cooperation works better than defiance.
Those Broncos fans in their seventies or eighties, or anyone with a pre-existing condition that might make them more vulnerable to infection, should think twice about going to games in person, Polis admitted. But "for the rest of us," he said, "that shouldn't stand in the way" of taking advantage of a plan "that allows people to cheer on the Broncos in person."