The last time sports fans in New York were able to attend an in-person event was Sunday, March 8, 2020 when both the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks played in their respective NBA arenas. Now, 10 months later, some Buffalo Bills fans will be able to flock to Bills Stadium after the NFL team secured a spot in the playoffs.
The news follows the announcement of a partnership between the Buffalo Bills and New Jersey-based BioReference Laboratories to screen fans before the big game.
"As soon as the Bills learned that they had earned the playoff spot, they began discussions with the governor's office and then we got involved relatively soon," Dr. Jon Cohen, executive chairman at BioReference Laboratories, told Cheddar.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo greenlit a pilot program that will allow 6,700 fans to attend the game. That's just under 10 percent of Bills Stadium's capacity of 71,870. According to the Cuomo administration, the plan could be a model for the reopening of live sporting events throughout the state.
BioReference Laboratories was tapped to help in the COVID-19 testing process after a successful run with the NBA and Major League Soccer during their bubble seasons at Walt Disney World.
Even with a reputable lab like BioReference involved, there might still be concern of a potential coronavirus outbreak. Cohen said testing and understanding of the virus has made tremendous strides over the last 10 months.
"Right now, just so you know, the PCR test in the laboratory is 98 percent accurate. There is still 1 to 2 percent rate of abnormal results, false positives, false negatives, etc. What's happened is, as we, like other people, got into the swing of figuring out how to do this kind of testing, which is fairly complex. Remember, you're testing for a virus that essentially was never tested before by the end of February, when the pandemic started," he explained.
Testing Before Game Day
The process is fairly simple for those lucky enough to snag tickets to the game, with priority going to season ticket holders. Once a ticket has been purchased, fans will receive a link directing them to schedule a test in the stadium parking lot two or three days prior to the game.
"There will be 30 lanes that are set up of traffic so that we can get you in and out within several minutes," Cohen said.
Fans will have to present their negative tests before entering Bills Stadium on game day. Refunds (minus mandatory testing fees) will be issued for anyone testing positive and potentially others in their party.
And no tailgating.
This game is a big deal for Bills fans: the last home playoff game was in 1996. Still, the upcoming game is drawing criticism as access to testing for the general public, for schools particularly, remains low in some areas. But, Cohen said, as the "third-largest COVID testing entity in the country," the health and safety of everyone, not just professional sports teams, is a priority for BioReference.
"We have never not been able to deliver on our commitments to test for anybody who needs testing," said Cohen.
"We do approximately sixty-ish thousand tests, PCR tests, every single day. Our priorities have always been health care, health care workers, frontline responders, people, obviously, admitted to the hospitals, in the ICUs, they get first priority as they always have since March 13," he said.
"We test for long-term care facilities, nursing homes, we test public schools," he also noted. "We tested over 200,000 New York City public [school] students over the last several weeks and released those results [Monday]."
Those results showed a positivity rate in the country's largest school system of just .47 percent since before New York City schools began opening in September. That is notably lower than citywide totals which are now just over 7 percent.