EDITORIAL: A positive incentive to become a vaccinated Pens fan

May 4—Consumers are accustomed to choices: First class or coach? Table or booth? Balcony or orchestra?

And now maybe vaccinated or unvaccinated?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have proposed the idea of a vaccinated section of PPG Paints Arena as a way to increase capacity at the venue while still maintaining adequate and appropriate social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. It is the next step in the team's path back to normal operations.

The Pens aren't alone.

In baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers are trying it out with a nine-game homestand this month. Not only is there a dedicated section for spectators who are fully vaccinated, but the tickets are discounted 20%. In basketball, the Atlanta Hawks are adding 500 seats for fully vaccinated ticket holders when the NBA starts its post-season games.

Even at home, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he has had similar conversations with the Pirates.

It is a smart — and more importantly, safe — move.

This is not a risky proposition. It is being made with equal respect for the science of what will work to reduce disease spread and the logistics of what will help economically for the spiderweb of connected industries related to sports and entertainment.

It is also an idea supported by leaders who have been cautious over the last year.

"I would encourage all of our sports teams, all of our venues, theaters, the opera, the symphony, the Playhouse, etc., to go ahead and think about the same thing," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

"This is a good move," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, the Pittsburgh-based senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, a national go-to voice on infectious disease. "I think it really reflects the confidence we have in the vaccines and how vaccines are a path to reclaiming your life."

That does not mean that everyone is on board or that it would be easy. NBA's Miami Heat started a similar process April 1 but have discontinued it and the use of covid-sniffing dogs because of logistical issues and because of how many people are being vaccinated. The number of fans at Heat games remains capped at 4,000, however.

Pennsylvania announced in April that about 40% of the state's residents had received at least one dose of vaccine. That still leaves lots of room for improvement on the way to herd immunity and the end of the pandemic.

But too often, looking at the end is done on a global or national or even statewide level — when what is needed is a good look down our main streets and parks and, yes, even our hockey arenas and concert venues.

If we want to get back to a time when a night out with friends is normal again, we can't just sit back and wait and we can't just complain that it hasn't happened. Supporting the hometown team — or the neighborhood theater or the festivals and events that were canceled over the last year — means rolling up sleeves and making it happen.

The Penguins' proposal is more than just a move that can put more people in seats and more people back at work. It's a question that asks people to make an active choice.

Where do you want to sit?

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