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NY to allow sports arenas, big venues to open with COVID testing rules. What to know

David Robinson
New York State Team

New York state will allow sports arenas and other large entertainment venues to open Feb. 23 at 10% capacity with mandatory COVID-19 testing requirements and other coronavirus safety precautions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The announcement applies to venues with 10,000 or above capacity and requires attendees to secure a negative result of PCR, or lab-based, COVID-19 test in the 72 hours leading up to the event, Cuomo said.

People will also be required to undergo a temperature screening, wear face coverings and follow social distancing rules at the venues, including assigned socially distant seating, he added.

Venues must seek state Department of Health approval of individual reopening plans, Cuomo said. The first venue to secure approval is the Barclays Center, which will allow fans at the Feb. 23 home game for the Brooklyn Nets.

"This hits the balance of safe reopening," Cuomo said. "Again, a PCR test is as safe as you can get."

Buffalo Bills hosted the Indianapolis Colts in their AFC Wild-Card playoff game in Orchard Park NY on, January 9, 2021.  6,700 fans were allowed to attend  if they tested negative to COVID-19.  The fans had to bring test results and their ticket to gain entry.  After they went through that checkpoint, fans had to go through normal security.

The reopening push is modeled after a trial program that allowed about 7,000 fans to attend two playoff games at Buffalo Bills Stadium in Orchard Park. While other NFL stadiums allowed some fans previously, the Bills' games were the first to require a negative COVID-19 test result for entrance.

Cuomo and state officials have said contact-tracing and COVID-19 tracking data found the Bills playoff games did not spread coronavirus infections, calling it a successful display of ongoing plans for using COVID19 tests to help safely reopen the economy amid the pandemic.

State officials said they will also be working on plans to allow stadiums and arenas currently being used as COVID-19 vaccination sites, such as Yankees Stadium in the Bronx, to reopen in the future.

Cuomo's announcement Wednesday does not appear to apply to Broadway theaters, which have capacities well below 10,000 and have remained closed since the early days of the pandemic.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio described the state’s plan to reopen arenas and stadiums as a positive development, citing the redemptive powers of sports.

“I’m someone who believes sports has a really big impact on all of us; it really gives people a lot of hope,” he said, adding the reopening push must be closely monitored in light of the new highly contagious coronavirus variants threatening the state and country.

“We’ve got to watch carefully each step along the way, and be led by the data and science as things develop,” he said.

The new rules for reopening large venues statewide came after Cuomo on Monday announced 300 impromptu events featuring musicians, actors and other performers will also be held across the state in coming weeks.

It is part of a series of measures intended to bring back some of the thousands of jobs lost in the arts industry, which has effectively been shuttered since March, Cuomo said.

More: NY PopsUp initiative to feature top actors, musicians. What to know

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David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached atdrobinson@gannett.com and followed on Twitter:@DrobinsonLoHud