Less than a week after the Green Bay Packers announced they will not allow fans to attend their first two games at Lambeau Field, another NFC contender has all but followed suit. The New Orleans Saints said Wednesday that their Sept. 13 season opener against the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be played in an empty Mercedes-Benz Superdome as a result of regional COVID-19 concerns. Not only that, but fans are also unlikely to be permitted at their next home game, a Week 3 matchup on Sept. 27, at least according to current local trends.
Current rates of COVID-19 infections in Louisiana, and specifically the New Orleans area, are largely responsible for the decision to keep fans out of the Superdome seats, the team explained in a statement.
This week, team officials met with health and safety experts, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and City of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to share the comprehensive health and safety plan to allow fans to attend Saints home games. Discussed during the meeting were the key trends that would indicate how effectively we are combating COVID-19, such as the number of new positive cases confirmed, positivity rate of testing and the ability of our healthcare system to treat those infected.
Unfortunately, at this time, the trends across our state and region do not meet the standards of health and safety we have established with our healthcare and government partners to host fans in the stadium for the first home game. While state numbers are trending in the right direction, further mitigation of cases is needed and a reduced infection rate is required for the team to welcome back its fans ... (and) significant improvement is required for that to occur.
The need for further mitigation of regional COVID-19 cases, the Saints added, is why it's "unlikely" the team will change its fan policy for Week 3, when the Packers are set to visit on Sept. 27, even though team president Dennis Lauscha said the club remains "cautiously optimistic that fans may be able to attend," albeit in a limited capacity, by that point. The Saints have also not committed to allowing fans in Week 5, when they return home to play the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 12.
"We are keenly aware of the outstanding home field advantage that our fans provide our team," Lauscha said, "and we are as eager as anyone to welcome them back. We remain optimistic and committed to implementing responsible and safe measures for everyone that attends a Saints game. We are highly confident in our plans that safely welcome fans back into the building but are also reliant and dependent on seeing a marked improvement in our community wellness numbers. Ultimately, while that is a difficult decision to have to make, it is made with the number one goal of health and safety of our community and region."