COVID blitz forces 49ers to play in Arizona


San Francisco 49ers need new home for next month Image: State Farm Stadium

The United States is almost at its wits’ end trying to tackle the COVID-19 situation. Looking at the very grim pandemic scenario in Santa Clara, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department have ruled out events at Levi’s Stadium in California, US, after formulating new coronavirus rules.

To this end, the American football team San Francisco 49ers have entered into an arrangement with the National Football League (NFL) to play two upcoming home games at its NFL peer Arizona Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium in Arizona, US. They will not even practice at their residence.

The 49ers will play three games at State Farm Stadium this month, with its away fixture against the Cardinals scheduled for December 26th.

The San Francisco 49ers are a professional American football team based in the San Francisco Bay Area. They compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member of the league’s National Football Conference (NFC) West division. Since 1988, the 49ers have been headquartered in Santa Clara.

Levi’s Stadium is an American football stadium located in Santa Clara, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has served as the home venue for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers since 2014.

Recently, Santa Clara County reported 760 new cases of coronavirus and 239 hospitalizations, 71 in intensive care. The county anticipates the surge could exceed the capacity of hospitals as a result of which new COVID-19 protocols have been put in place.

Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s top health official, said in a statement, “I am gravely concerned by the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in our county has doubled in just the past couple of weeks, and we are at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity very soon if current trends continued.”

The 49ers’ games against the NFL team (based in Orchard Park, New York) Buffalo Bills on December 7th and NFL team Washington Football Team (based in Washington, D.C.,) on December 13th will both be held at the State Farm Stadium after a deal was struck with the NFL and the Cardinals.

In a statement, the 49ers said that the Cardinals, State Farm Stadium and NFL officials had been supportive and accommodating as the team worked through the “many logistical issues” involved in relocating games.

In the wake of new rules imposed by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department placing a temporary ban on recreational activities that “involve physical contact or close proximity to persons outside one’s household, including all contact sports”, the 49ers had been scouting for a base to play its upcoming home games.

The above directives came into effect on November 30th following COVID-19 cases shooting up in the region and will be in place until at least December 21st. The 49ers are also due to host their counterpart Seattle Seahawks (based in Seattle, US) on January 3rd, with a decision on the location for the fixture to be made nearer the time.

The 49ers have been playing matches sans fans at Levi’s Stadium this season and in October the team decided to continue staging games without spectators despite the State of California permitting onlookers in outdoor venues for professional sporting events in counties reporting low COVID-19 infection rates.

The 49ers statement further read, “We are aware of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s emergency directive. We are working with the NFL and our partners on operational plans and will share details as they are confirmed.”

Stated Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams, “For those teams, they will not be able to play games or have practices where they have direct contact within the county. We have been in touch with and will continue to be in touch with all the affected parties including sports teams.”

The mandate lays down that people entering the county will have to quarantine for 14 days after travel of more than 150 miles.

Earlier, a league source said the 49ers and NFL prepared back-up plans before the season in event the team had to relocate and have an NFL stadium ready for games. It was noted after the NFL schedule was released in May, when Santa Clara County was under a stay-at-home order, that the 49ers could play in Arizona at the Cardinals’ home, State Farm Stadium, because the two teams did not have home games on the same day.

COVID-19 still continues to haunt the NFL. Recently, the Baltimore Ravens (based in Baltimore, Maryland) added six players to the COVID list, bringing their total to 18. The Pittsburgh Steelers (based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) have five players on the COVID list.

As for practice, there are still several options to consider for the 49ers. They could practice in Arizona and stay in a hotel for a month in a pseudo bubble. Another possibility would be to practice more than 150 miles away from their region – allowing those with the team to see their families from time to time – then travel to their new ‘home’ stadium.

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