RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A bill filed this week by a group of Republican North Carolina senators would increase the number of people who could attend outdoor high school games just as football season is set to begin.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s current executive order limits attendance at those games to 100 people.
The Republican-sponsored bill would increase that to 40 percent of a facility’s capacity. For facilities that don’t have an occupancy under the fire code, the limit would be seven people per 1,000 square feet.
Holly Attanasio’s son, Jakson, plays football for Sanderson High School in Raleigh.
The Wake County Public School System is limiting attendance only to immediate family members of the home team.
“And so, as a parent whose child has been injured on the field at an away game, I urge our government to allow us to be near our children. It’s a safety issue,” she said. “It’s really limiting our ability to support our children.”
An online petition calling for increased capacity with attendees wearing masks had garnered more than 40,000 signatures as of Friday.
Sen. Todd Johnson (R-Union) is one of the primary sponsors of the bill.
In a letter to Cooper about the situation, he encouraged the governor to modify his executive order to address the situation. He said ultimately that would be faster than trying to make the change through the legislative process.
“I don’t think this is about trying to beat the governor or being emboldened to take on the governor. What we’re doing is we’re just responding to the folks that call us,” he said. “I want to get to where folks are able to make their own decisions and what’s safe for them. If I can go to Walmart or Lowe’s with 200 people in a room, then why can’t I go to an outside football game and watch my kids play?”
During a press conference Thursday, Cooper said he’d heard the concerns of families, and that health officials are considering what changes may be appropriate in the next executive order.
His current order runs until Feb. 28.
He said he plans to announce any potential changes to it next week.
“That’s one of the issues that health officials are looking at, the desire to increase the number of spectators at events,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to keep the health and safety of North Carolinians as the number-one priority, but we do understand people wanting to be a part of these events.”
Earlier this week, NC High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker addressed the situation in a memo to schools earlier this week.
“It has been suggested that the NCHSAA isn’t doing its part to ‘put pressure’ on Governor Cooper and Dr. Cohen! That is unlikely to happen, as it has never been the philosophy of the NCHSAA to pressure people with more authority and more expertise in some issues. Would the NCHSAA like more people in the stands? Absolutely! But to be clear, we want that when it is safe and conducive to do so.”
Guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people to watch sports remotely. It also notes that outdoor events pose less of a risk than indoor events. The guidance also calls for wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
An update from the Wake County Public School System on Feb. 9 notes that attendance is capped at 100 people for outdoor events and 25 people for indoor events. Families of students from visiting teams are not allowed to attend.
“High school administrators and athletic directors recognize that allowing spectators from visiting teams would be very difficult to manage,” the memo reads. “And with multiple contests and activities often taking place on one campus at the same time, the host school would be required to screen potentially hundreds of spectators across multiple events and then monitor and enforce compliance with distancing and face covering requirements. Schools do not have adequate staffing to be able to effectively coordinate these logistics and ensure everyone’s health and safety.”