Will Minnesota follow other states urging sporting events be played without fans?

COVID-19's impact could mean no fans at Seattle Mariners games.
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Xcel Energy Center

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is now being felt in the sporting world as events are being canceled around the world and U.S. states are acting to prevent transmission of the disease. 

What it could mean for Minnesota is yet to be determined, but if what's happening around the country is any indication, COVID-19 containment strategies could lead to bans on large gatherings, including high-profile sporting events. Minnesota is not there yet, however. 

"We would need to see multiple cases from multiple different areas, that's when we would start to focus on canceling public activities," MDH Director of Infectious Diseases Kris Ehresmann said Tuesday. "It is an evolving situation and so people are going to have to see where it goes. We can't predict where it's going, we just prepare for what might happen."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected announced Wednesday a ban on any large gatherings of more than 250 people for essentially the entire Seattle metro area, which is home to approximately 4 million people. The ban includes Seattle Mariners baseball and Seattle Sounders soccer games, according to the Associated Press

The ban through the end of March in Seattle means alternative plans will likely be needed for the Mariners-Twins series scheduled March 30-April 1. 

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine wants all indoor sporting events to be played without fans, with only essential players and staff needed to complete a competition. 

The NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets host the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night and have said they will not follow DeWine's recommendation. Instead, the Blue Jackets say additional cleaning is being performed in and around the arena and they are providing more hand sanitizer dispensers. 

"To that end, guests should adhere to recommendations that suggest persons at higher risk, including elderly individuals and those with currently compromised health issues or who are feeling ill, avoid large-scale public events," the Blue Jackets said in a release. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has urged residents to avoid sporting events, concerts and other large gatherings, and on Wednesday the City of San Francisco passed a public health order that bans all gatherings larger than 1,000 people. The move has the support of the Golden State Warriors, according to reporter Logan Murdock

By contrast in Europe, where the virus has had more time to establish, a number of soccer games have been postponed altogether, others played behind closed doors, while the end of the Serie A season in Italy has been suspended indefinitely.

High-profile sporting events upcoming in Minnesota

The message to Minnesotans from Gov. Tim Walz has been to prepare, not panic in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with Walz signing a bill Monday that will back the state's COVID-19 defense with $21 million in additional funding. 

Minnesota will be home to numerous large-scale sporting events in the coming days and weeks. This week, the girls' high school basketball state tournament is happening Wednesday-Saturday at Target Center and Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Next week is the boys' basketball state tournament. 

The NCAA Wrestling Championships are set to go on as planned March 19-21 at U.S. Bank Stadium, according to the Star Tribune, but the NCAA is closely monitoring the spread of the virus and its potential impact on tournaments. 

“The NCAA continues to assess how COVID-19 impacts the conduct of our tournaments and events,’’ a statement from the NCAA said. “We are consulting with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel, who are leading experts in epidemiology and public health, and will make decisions in the coming days.’’

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The Big Ten men's basketball tournament begins Wednesday in Indianapolis, where the Gophers face Northwestern at 5 p.m. Next week marks the start of the 68-team NCAA tournament, along with the NIT and other smaller-scale tournaments. 

Yale, the Ivy League regular season champion in men's basketball, was awarded a berth in the NCAA tournament after the league canceled its conference tournament in wake of the coronavirus. 

The Wild have six more home games between now and the end of the regular season, plus additional home games if they reach the postseason. 

The Timberwolves play their next five games on the road before nine of the final 13 games are played at Target Center. According to ESPN, the NBA is discussing the possibility of moving games away from cities where COVID-19 is prominent. 

"If the virus clusters and forces a team out of its city and arena for a period of time, there has been discussion about moving games to the away opponent's arena if that city hasn't suffered an outbreak – or even moving games to neutral cities and sites, league sources told ESPN."

The Twins open the season March 26 in Oakland, with their Home Opener April 2 at Target Field against the Athletics. Overall, the Twins have 16 home games in April, including 10 in a row April 17-26. 

The next four Minnesota United MLS games are set to be played at Allianz Field in St. Paul, including the first home game of the season this Sunday, March 15 against the New York Red Bulls. 

At this point, there are no plans to cancel sporting events or disallow fans from attending games in Minnesota, but the situation certainly warrants monitoring. 

As of Wednesday morning, there are three confirmed presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The first two cases were found in Ramsey and Carver counties, with both patients recovering at home under quarantine.

The third case, confirmed in Anoka County Tuesday by the MDH, is for a patient in their 30s in critical condition. 

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