Texas governor declares sports stadiums are safe at 50% capacity, no one else agrees

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last week announced that outdoor sports stadiums would be allowed to admit fans at 25% capacity this summer, which seemed optimistic given that simple geometry shows that anything much over 15% would require fans to be way too close together to obey social-distancing requirements. But that clearly wasn’t enough to get sports teams scurrying to reopen the gates, so yesterday Abbott raised the attendance cap to 50%, effective immediately.

Presumably Abbott’s goal here is to “get the economy going,” which sort of makes economic sense in this sense, since the middle of a pandemic-spawned crash is the one time that sports events don’t just siphon off money that would otherwise be spent elsewhere. (Jigsaw puzzle sales, maybe, but most of those will be from out-of-state.) It makes zero epidemiological sense, though, since even if the virus doesn’t spread nearly as well in outdoor spaces, sitting right next to someone (or in the row ahead of someone) for hours at a time is a great way to get a concentrated blast of virus. Which might be okay if this were, say, Iceland, where there are very few new cases and those are quickly caught by widespread testing and contact tracing and quarantine, but Texas is distinctly not Iceland, as the Dallas Morning News notes way down in its 10th paragraph:

Abbott’s new order comes just three days after the state set a single-day high of positive tests. Texas has reported three of its four highest days of positive tests since March within the last week.

Or in graph form:

And before anyone asks, no, that’s not because more people in Texas are getting tested, because they’re not:

(Abbott did add that most of the new cases are in “isolated hot spots in nursing homes, jails, and meat packing plants,” which apparently isn’t a risk because meat packing plant workers and nursing home aides never go to sporting events.)

Sports leagues and event organizers, to their credit, appear to be responding to the governor’s twin announcements with a resounding What are you smoking? Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said that “nobody wants to have the stands filled with fans more than me but we’re just not in a position to do that yet,” and no other major sports leagues seem interested in reopening their gates to any fans at all anytime soon. And it’s certainly possible that Abbott knows this: He could just be announcing that fans can go back to attending games so that he can score “reopen America” points with those who think that’s a good idea, all the while knowing that neither sports owners nor sports fans have much interest in being guinea pigs for giant public petri dishes.

The far greater concern, honestly, is that Abbott also allowed bars and restaurants to reopen at 50% capacity, which is an even worse idea than stadiums, as bars and restaurants are 1) indoors and 2) places where people don’t like to wear masks, as that makes it really hard to drink and eat. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an instructive chart showing how the coronavirus was spread by a single diner at one restaurant in China; take a look at that, then tell me how well limiting capacity to 50% is likely to go. Guess we’ll find out for sure in five to six weeks; unfortunately it’ll be too late to stop tons of additional people from dying and keep from having to return to more stringent lockdowns if things went badly, but you can’t make a return to normalcy without breaking a few lives! Unless you’re Iceland, anyway.


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26 comments on “Texas governor declares sports stadiums are safe at 50% capacity, no one else agrees

  1. I have actually had this conversation with a dean of a Big 12 university in Texas. You are correct, College football is on at 50% capacity. What I think you missed were some of the other plans. There are plenty of technologies becoming available that mitigate the risk. By definition, an outdoor stadium is not an environment that is friendly COVID-19 and other microbials. In Texas, they are extremely hot most of the season and in daytime full of UV light. Hard surfaces (if that is even still an issue by CDC standards) can be cleaned electrostatically which deactivates viruses on contact for up to 90 days. Upon entry, it is my understanding everyone will be subject to temperature screening and be disinfected by a HOCl mist all at once in these new disinfecting tunnels that Florida theme parks are installing. https://www.fox35orlando.com/video/688756
    From there masks will be required and social distancing as situationally nesecasry. No, it’s not 100% but it will exponentially mitigate the risks.

    1. UV light is good for disinfecting surfaces, but won’t help if someone coughs on you (or breathes on you, or speaks in your vicinity). Masks will help a little bit, but not if you’re sitting three feet from someone for two hours.

      As for temperature screening and disinfecting tunnels, that’s all public health theater, and not to be taken seriously.

      1. I am eagerly awaiting the first negligence lawsuit brought by a spectator at a sporting event who abides by the “safety” rules put in place but still gets sick (or worse).

        I am certain they will be asked to sign waivers (or just have one included with the online ticket purchase that requires you to check a box that says you are not a robot and also confirms you are attending at your own risk). I am also certain that those waivers won’t hold up in cases of serious negligence.

    2. Mick,

      Honestly, this dean is referencing a lot of unproven, untried and unsound ideas about the safety protocols of their potential 50% stadium capacity.

      Normally when I hear about an unsound story from a Texas university dean I point my finger at Texas A&M, but since you mentioned the dean you spoke to is from a Big 12 school I guess that negates the Aggies.

      Is this dean the dean of the university athletic revenue department?

      1. Or you are… Screen out symptomatic people, make sure the environment is clean and you significantly mitigate the risk. So much so insurance companies will give you a discount for putting such procedures in place

        “Asymptomatic spread of coronavirus is ‘very rare,’ WHO says”


        1. Or not!


          Weirdly, both WHO and the researchers cited in the Time article claim that they drew their conclusions from examining contact tracing data, so either they’re using two different datasets or somebody did something wrong.

          The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that children under 10 almost never infect anyone else. Maybe MLB stadiums should be open but limited to grade-schoolers?

        2. It also looks as if WHO may be making a distinction between asymptomatic cases (those who never develop symptoms) and presymptomatic cases (those who will go on to develop symptoms, but haven’t yet). If presymptomatic can spread but asymptomatic mostly don’t, that a big help for contact tracing — just find everyone with symptoms and you can trace anyone they’ve been in contact with, even before coming down with symptoms — but doesn’t help much for screening fans at baseball games, unless every team can employ fortune tellers.

          1. Good Twitter thread here:


  2. Texas restaurants have been opened for inside dining for more than a month. The % of new cases versus the number of those tested continue to fall (Positivity rate). The number of hospitalizations has continued to fall. The reason given for the lockdown was to “slow the spread” so our medical system would not be overwhelmed. In fact due to the lockdown doctors, nurses, and staff have been laid off.

    1. The positivity rate is not falling, as the two graphs posted above make very clear.

      1. Neil that is because we are testing more. The lockdowns were an abject failure and should be avoided in the future. As far as stadiums are concerned I say start up next year but bars and gyms should open next month. You cherry pick the data for your DOOM and gloom narrative

        1. I would say I should post the graphs showing that testing in Texas is not significantly on the rise in recent weeks but I LITERALLY DID THAT IN THIS POST.

          1. I guess you kind of got me on that one that one (but they are still on the rise and don’t forget did you address whether people are more and more choosing to get tested) but the fact that the so called experts keep changing the rules will lead to a lack of trust. Lack of trust will lead to people not social distancing. Covid19 is a slightly more dangerous SARs epidemic. We should only have a minimal look down. The lack of tough questions by the media elite of the so called experts leads me to believe that this was intended to roll over into the culture wars which pits media moguls in hog heaven

          2. SARS killed 812 people worldwide. Covid has killed 383,000 and counting. The reasons are simple: Covid is more infectious, and crucially, has a way longer asymptomatic phase than SARS, so it spreads much, much faster even if it doesn’t kill as efficiently. That’s why Ebola has never been a global danger — it kills so fast that everyone dies before it can spread very far.

            If I had to make a comparison, I would say that Covid is best seen as a fast-moving AIDS epidemic, only this time there are no condoms.

          3. Neil answer this. Is covid19 so dangerous that people can’t get cancer screening until there is a vaccine for which there never been one. If the question is about saving lives why stop with covid19 let’s do social distancing for the flu too.

          4. You can get cancer screenings now, vaccines have been developed in the past, and Covid kills about ten times as many people as the flu.

            So I guess my answers are “What?” and “That’s not a question.”

  3. The past week will certainly let us know in a bit if we’re having a giant 2nd wave or not.

    1. Yes, but not for another few weeks. And it’s going to be hard to disentangle from the effect of all the Phase 2 reopenings.

  4. Thinking of my governor here in Texas I can’t help but think of a quote from Blazzing Saddles:

    “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know morons.”

    1. The failed tether ball game in which Brooks and Korman discuss the need to “protect our phony baloney jobs” also works in said context.

      I think we’ve always known that money will be the main consideration rather than human safety… but seeing it so clearly stated is still surprising. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

  5. Anon,

    Lately, our state’s leadership has been always been more interested in doing what is popular with their base instead of what is right for our state.

  6. The big question to me is perhaps a niche one: the Indianapolis 500, which was rescheduled to late August.

    ~250,000 grandstand seats, with ~100,000 in the infield. Most of those seats have been with families for decades. The track’s in the middle of lower-class suburb Speedway, so urban streets, etc.

    “Social distancing” will be impossible. The race effectively needs 5 hours for everyone to drive in and be seated without any measures, with jams of people stretch for half a mile or more at points normally. Any measures taken will multiply that.

    The track/series/goodwill was just purchased by Penske Corporation. TV contract isn’t terrible, but the race and attendance floats the entire Indycar series. Roger Penske’s investment in all three is probably completely shot if the 500 doesn’t go this year. Great chance the series would have been dead without Penske buying it, some chance it dies anyway if the race doesn’t happen and Penske writes it off.

    If it does go ahead, the Indiana health system faces a risk of a gigantic breakout at a centralized event of 350,000 people in a state of 6 million, in the presence of much of the state police force (who do traffic), travelling back to every corner of the state and the surrounding midwest.

    The speedway showed the sense to keep fans away from a July 4 Indycar/NASCAR doubleheader that would have probably gotten 30-50k fans each day. I have no idea how they will deal with August.

    1. It will definitely hurt if the race either doesn’t go or – in my opinion more likely – does go but with either no fans or a cap of 50,000 or some arbitrary number around there.

      It won’t make it safe. It might make it less risky. If they have to race in front of no paying fans I think they will do that. As you say, the TV deal for the 500 is pretty good.

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