No fans for Lightning, Raptors due to COVID surge

THE Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Raptors will play without fans in their home arena until at least Feb. 5 because of a surge in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the Tampa, Florida area.

The Lightning plays at Amalie Arena in Tampa, and have been joined there to start this season by the Raptors because of issues entering and exiting Canada amid the pandemic.

Vinik Sports Group, LLC, the parent company of the Lightning and the arena, announced the temporary fan ban in a statement on Saturday, adding “the organization will reassess the numbers with local health and government officials in the coming weeks before making any subsequent decisions.”

“We have worked tirelessly, putting every safety measure possible in place at Amalie Arena,” said Steve Griggs, the Vinik CEO. “However, as we review current data and COVID-19 modeling for the next few weeks in the Tampa Bay area, we do not believe it is prudent to admit fans inside the arena at this time.”

The Raptors have played three games in their Florida home with a limited number of fans. The Stanley Cup champion Lightning is scheduled to open their season at home against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, and about 4,000 fans were expected — less than 25% capacity.

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Florida reported a record high 125,937 cases this week, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center. In Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located, cases have risen 20.03 percent over the past 14 days, the county reported.

Super Bowl LV is scheduled to be played on Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Stadium capacity for the game has yet to be announced. — Reuters

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