Cuomo moves ahead with plan to let fans attend Bills playoff game

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo. | Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

ALBANY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is moving ahead with a plan to let a limited number of fans attend the Buffalo Bills’ home playoff game on the weekend of Jan. 9.

Outside of some protests, the game — where attendance will be capped at 6,700 people in a stadium that seats more than 70,000 — will be the largest legal mass gathering in New York State since last March.

The Bills recently clinched first place in the AFC’s East division, the first time a New York-based NFL team has won a division since 1995. They defeated their longtime nemesis, the New England Patriots, 38-9, on Monday night.

The governor has portrayed the game as a test of how state government might take larger steps toward reopening the economy as it waits for the number of vaccinations to hit a critical mass.

“We can’t take six months, nine months, 12 months, more of a close-down,” Cuomo said during a briefing on Wednesday. “We can’t take the economic cost, we can’t take the psychological cost, we can’t take the emotional cost.”

How it will work: The state’s plan is similar to one that Cuomo floated a week ago.

Fans will be seated with some distance between them and other groups of attendees. Tailgating will be banned and masks required. Attendees will need to take a Covid test before attending, and will be subject to contact tracing afterwards.

They’ll be charged $63 for these tests, according to a release from the Bills. Fans will need to show the results of these tests before being allowed into the stadium.

“It’s not about a football game as much as it is ‘how do you reopen the economy,’ and that is a question that concerns everyone,” Cuomo said.

It’s obviously quite a bit safer to allow an event in a mostly empty outdoor stadium than at most venues. But the game will be seen as a test for how feasible it might be to administer large-scale rapid testing.

“I don’t see a key to the door beyond this key. Really the only key you have is rapid testing. So we will be aggressive in exploring it, and that’s what we’re doing now,” the governor said. “If it works there, could you do Madison Square Garden? Could you do a theater on Broadway, could you do a certain capacity in a restaurant so restaurants can reopen safely? That is the road we are looking at.”

And Cuomo, it seems, will be conducting an on-the-ground analysis of how this pilot goes: “I’m going to take my test, I’m going to be out there to watch the game with you,” he said.

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