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‘We are in a period of transition in Canada’: U.S. is at near full capacity at stadiums, but will Canada ever get there?

Depending on state regulations, most sporting venues are almost at full capacity in the United States. While many health protocols are followed, is it actually safe to be in a closed space with thousands of fans packed together?

The U.S. now has fully vaccinated over 45.7 per cent of its population with 54 per cent being given at least the first dose.

“We are in a period of transition right now in Canada and the United States. They are certainly further along than we are in the vaccination roll-out, but having said that, there are still a lot of people in the U.S. that are not vaccinated,” said infectious disease specialist, Dr. Isaac Bogoch.

For their first two NBA play-off games against the Atlanta Hawks, The New York Knicks hosted a crowd of 15,000, reaching over 75 per cent capacity at Madison Square Garden.

While the restrictions in place require fans to provide proof of either full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, there are no requirements for masks or social distancing in vaccinated seating sections.

With attendance in some states nearing 20,000 people in these events, Dr. Bogoch says you can’t expect there to be no transmission.

“There is probably going to be some transmission when you have so many people packed indoors close together especially if they are yelling and screaming.”Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease expert

The American teams in the NHL have shown a similar approach with the Las Vegas Knights returning to full capacity, and others like the Boston Bruins approaching similar numbers during the Stanley Cup playoffs before their elimination.

Dr. Bogoch says there are multiple factors that go into determining the risk of these events, such as ventilation systems, the vaccination status of the community and if mask wearing and social distancing can be practiced or not.

“There are a lot of different states that have different policies, so there is not a one-size-fits-all risk for this.”

Canada has edging close to this reality with 20 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, but things are still unclear with the rise of the Delta variant. 

Will Canada be able to fill stadiums anytime soon?

While Toronto could not host the Raptors or the Blue Jays for a single game this season, on May 31, over 500 fully vaccinated health-care workers were invited to watch Game 7 between Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens in the Scotiabank Arena.

“You have got 550 people who are fully vaccinated, wearing masks, physically distant in a massive stadium that could seat 20,000 and has good ventilation. That’s about as safe as it gets,” said Dr. Bogoch.

While the pandemic progresses, different variants of the COVID-19 virus have become an important topic of conversation in regards to vaccine efficiency and how they might affect our transition back to normal.

“Many of the variants are more transmissible which just means that they are more likely to spread when you cram more people into an indoor venue especially without masks and good ventilation,” says Dr. Bogoch.

However, he adds while the vaccines are not perfect they still do protect against the circulating variants of concern.

“This is more of an issue for unvaccinated crowds. But again vaccines aren’t perfect, they are just really good.”

Dr. Bogoch says he can see Canada getting to fill the arenas like the United States, just not all at once.

“It’s not like you’re going to turn on a switch and one day have 20,000 people unmasked in a sporting event or a concert,” he says. “Eventually we will get there, we are just not going to get there tomorrow.”