Apr. 28—Restaurants once had smoking and non-smoking sections. The Pittsburgh Penguins are working to allow for vaccinated and non-vaccinated sections at PPG Paints Arena.
In an email sent to season-ticket holders, the Penguins said they have petitioned Pennsylvania state government and the commonwealth's Department of Health about the idea, which would allow more tickets to be sold because seating would be less socially distant.
"We are encouraged by the number of people in and around the region that have been vaccinated and feel that this would be a safe and effective way to allow more fans access to attend games," wrote Penguins CEO/president David Morehouse in the email to season-ticket holders.
Under current state regulations for indoor events put in place by Gov. Tom Wolf, the Penguins have had recent games with announced attendance of 4,672 — about 25% of PPG Paints Arena's capacity for hockey.
That is an increase from March games that had a 2,800-person limit under previous guidelines. The Penguins began their delayed and shortened season with no tickets sold for games, although a small number of team guests were in luxury suites.
Speaking Wednesday in Washington County, Wolf said the Penguins' initial inquiry to the state involved allowing only vaccinated fans into the arena, presumably to allow for full (or close to full) capacity.
Reactions from elected officials to the vaccinated-section proposal were mixed. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald enthusiastically supported the Penguins' plan, calling vaccinated sections "the right thing to do."
"I applaud the Penguins for doing that," he said during a weekly Allegheny County Health Department news conference Wednesday. "Those folks can feel safe if they're together. They don't need to be 6 feet apart. They don't need to be wearing their masks, if everybody that's been vaccinated in an area can be together. I would encourage all of our sports teams, all of our venues, theaters, the opera, the symphony, the playhouse to go ahead and think about the same thing."
Wolf seemed more lukewarm.
"One of the things that was in the CDC guidelines is you've still got to be careful,even if you've been vaccinated, and even if you're in the outdoors, if you're at a crowded event," Wolf said.
"So the Penguins and everybody with sporting (events) indoors and outdoors are struggling with exactly that question: How do we do this? We've got ... close to 50% of Pennsylvanians who have gotten the first dose. What can they do right now? And it's a work in progress. We are trying to figure it out."
The Pirates for May are selling tickets up to 25% capacity for games at PNC Park, despite state guidance that now allows for 50% of capacity for outdoor events.
Capacity limits vary across the country, with a UFC fight night in Jacksonville, Fla., last weekend becoming the first indoor, sold-out sporting event held in the country since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
The Texas Rangers baseball team played to a sold-out crowd of 38,238 for their home opener April 5. Coronavirus cases in Texas and in Tarrant County (where Globe Life Field is located) have remained virtually flat in the 3 1/2 weeks since.
The email from the Penguins states that vaccination status would not be a requirement for attending games and that all federal and state regulations and existing covid-19 protocols would remain in place. Notably, masks still would be required, even in the vaccinated sections.
The email from the Penguins was sent Tuesday, a day in which coronavirus hospitalization and case rates continued to decline in Allegheny County and the state.
Almost one-third of Allegheny County residents have been fully vaccinated, with another 21% who are partially vaccinated and theoretically would be fully inoculated in the coming weeks.
The NHL postseason is set to begin in about two weeks, and the Penguins are close to clinching a playoff spot. Gate revenue from playoff home games is significant to the organization, and fans traditionally covet tickets to postseason games more than they do those for the regular season.
A Penguins' spokesperson said other than the email, the team would not comment further.
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Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .