SEATTLE (AP) -- How sports fans in Seattle respond to being in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States gets its first test on Saturday night.
The Seattle Sounders typically don't have any problems drawing around 40,000 for their home MLS matches at CenturyLink Field. But how fans respond to the outbreak is in question as the Sounders host the Columbus Crew. It's the first major sporting event in Seattle since the region saw a major rise in the number of diagnosed cases and deaths.
Earlier Saturday, officials in Washington state raised the death toll from the coronavirus to 16. The Washington state Department of Health announced the two additional deaths and said the number of people diagnosed with the virus has risen to 102. At least 10 of those who died had been linked to a nursing home in the Seattle area.
The Sounders match is the culmination of a strange week for sports teams in the area, who answered as many questions about their preventative measures toward the coronavirus as anything happening on the field or court.
Seattle University's men's and women's basketball teams both had games cancelled. Seattle's men were scheduled to host Chicago State and Missouri-Kansas City, but both schools announced they would not travel to Seattle for games.
Washington men's and women's basketball teams both competed away from home. The Seattle Mariners continued spring training in Arizona with rising concerns about whether they should play their opening homestand beginning March 26.
But while there were a couple of cancellations, most events went off without delay or restrictions. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association held boys and girls state basketball tournaments all week in three locations around the state.
The Sounders opened the MLS season last Sunday with a home match against Chicago, but that was prior to the significant rise in diagnosed cases in the Seattle area. The Sounders announced a crowd of 40,126 for that opening win.
But as of Saturday afternoon there were large numbers of tickets available to buy on the secondary market for the match against Columbus.
In a statement released Thursday, the Sounders said they are “in continuous dialogue with regional health authorities and Major League Soccer, in addition to our network of medical experts.”
The team said it has also worked with First & Goal Inc., the operator of CenturyLink Field, to expand sanitation procedures and increased hand sanitizer stations throughout the venue.
“This is a real situation,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said this week. “The club obviously keeps me updated and the decisions that the club makes at the higher levels are above my pay grade. I go along with it, because it’s a serious deal.”