Attending Sporting Events Safely Amid COVID-19

Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments. 

The COVID-19 pandemic put sports on hold in the spring. Many high school, college, and professional sports seasons are now underway, bringing players and coaches back onto the playing fields and sidelines.

Depending on where you live, fans may not be in the stands. States have adopted different limits on the number of people who can attend sporting events and other gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health limits attendance at both indoor and outdoor events according to the facility’s size.

Those limits may increase as the sports calendar continues. That’s why it’s important to take every step to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

How Many People Can Attend Sporting Events Amid COVID-19?

States have varying policies for attendance at large gatherings like sporting events, concerts, festivals, and more.

Pennsylvania has updated its attendance policy for both indoor and outdoor facilities. Limits depend on the size of the venue and whether it’s indoors or outdoors. The maximum capacity for indoor events is 3,750 people, and the maximum capacity for outdoor events is 7,500 people.

Limits for indoor events are:

  • Venues with maximum capacity of 0-2,000 people are allowed to reach 20% of capacity
  • Venues with maximum capacity of 2,001-10,000 people are allowed to reach 15% of capacity
  • Venues with maximum capacity of more than 10,000 people are allowed to reach 10% of capacity, up to 3,750 people

Limits for outdoor events are:

  • Venues with maximum capacity of 0-2,000 people are allowed to reach 25% of capacity
  • Venues with maximum capacity of 2,001-10,000 people are allowed to reach 20% of capacity
  • Venues with maximum capacity of more than 10,000 people are allowed to reach 15% of capacity, up to 7,500 people

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Is It Safe to Attend Sporting Events Amid COVID-19?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), organizers of events like weddings, funerals, and sporting events should follow state and local regulations on size and safety.

There is a higher risk for COVID-19 spread as the number of people you interact with increases, the CDC says. The risk also increases if an event takes place in a location with higher levels of community transmission of COVID-19.

Highest-risk events include large gatherings of people who travel from outside the local area and where it is difficult to maintain six feet of social distancing. Indoor events carry a higher risk than outdoor events.

“An event inside is dramatically different than an event outside,” says Donald Yealy, MD, chair, UPMC Department of Emergency Medicine. “The ability to space, the ability to have fresh air around, all might influence the very specific decision any organization might make about hosting other folks.”

If a sporting event allows fans, two key practices should be followed to limit the risk of COVID-19 spread: facemasks and social distancing.

“Being unmasked and in congregate settings increases the risk of transmission,” says Graham Snyder, MD, medical director, infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC.

“So whether we’re talking about schools, health care facilities, sporting events, weddings, or any other gatherings, it’s the same biology of transmission. Being in close contact, unmasked, and with other individuals increases the risk of transmission.”

How Can Fans Stay Safe at Sporting Events Amid COVID-19?

If you attend a sporting event, you should take preventive actions to stay safe and limit

COVID-19 spread.

COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets. They can be released when people breathe, talk, cough, sneeze, cheer, or sing. Since all of these actions take place at sporting events, COVID-19 prevention measures are even more important.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Stay home if you’re sick: COVID-19 can cause many different symptoms, but the most common are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you feel sick, stay home. Do not attend large gatherings, including sporting events.
  • Facemasks: It is possible for asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people to spread COVID-19. Because of that, wearing a cloth facemask is a key preventive measure. Pennsylvania requires everyone 2 years old and above to wear a cloth facemask in public places. If you attend a sporting event, you should wear a facemask at all times, except when eating.
  • Social distancing: If you attend a game, do so with people from your own household. In the stands, sit at least six feet away from people who are not members of your household. Maintain six feet of distance from people in restrooms, concession stand lines, and other areas.
  • Hand hygiene: Frequent handwashing can help prevent the spread of disease. Wash your hands often, and especially after coughing or sneezing, before and after eating, and after touching high-touch surfaces. Use soap and water and scrub for 20 seconds before rinsing. If soap and water are unavailable, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and rub your hands until dry. Bring your own hand sanitizer in case it isn’t available at the facility.
  • No high fives: Person-to-person contact like high fives, handshakes, and fist bumps often occurs at sporting events. Because that contact can spread COVID-19, you should avoid it — especially with people who are not members of your household.

How Can Sports Organizations Keep Fans Healthy Amid COVID-19?

Sports organizations should work with state and local health officials to determine safety guidelines for fans, such as attendance limits and game-day safety protocols.

The CDC released guidelines on what sports organizations can do to limit the risk of COVID-19 spread among attendees. They include preventive actions such as facemasks, social distancing, and cleaning and sanitizing facilities.

Sports organizations should ensure they have adequate supplies to promote hygiene, the CDC says. They should also consider posting signs and having adequate messaging about topics like facemasks and social distancing. They also should prepare a plan for what to do if someone falls ill.

Organizations should consider monitoring fans to make sure COVID-19 preventive efforts are being followed.

If sports venues do allow fans, the goal should be to ensure everyone can enjoy the competition in a safe manner.

For more about COVID-19, visit

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Considerations for Events and Gatherings.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), Symptoms of Coronavirus.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Guidance for All Sports Permitted to Operate During the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency to Ensure the Safety and Health of Employees, Athletes and the Public.

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