CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Fans will not be in attendance at Bank of America stadium when the Carolina Panthers play their NFL home opener in Charlotte on September 13, the team announced Monday amid the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
"We have worked tirelessly since March to develop and implement a responsible, comprehensive plan to ensure that your game day experience is enjoyable and as safe as possible," a team e-mail to fans reads in part Monday.
The team's decision is a result of North Carolina's Phase 2 restrictions, which prohibit the gatherings of large crowds. Even as North Carolina prepares to enter Phase 2.5, fans won't be in attendance in September.
"This is not a choice between a full stadium or an empty stadium," the Panthers email roads. "We have offered compromises and alternatives. We will continue reaching out to government officials regarding options for future games."
The organization said they have created safety plans that would include requiring face coverings and temperature checks. They cited a partnership with Honeywell to create custom personal protection equipment and deploy "solutions to monitor air quality throughout the facility."
"Both the State and Mecklenburg County Public Health have reviewed the Panther’s plans and provided feedback," a Mecklenburg County spokesperson told WCNC Charlotte. "The plans are comprehensive and the Panther staff have worked with us to strengthen them as needed. NC DHHS has responded to their request to include spectators in September, denying that exception."
Tuesday afternoon, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced the state would be entering Phase 2.5 of Safer At Home, easing certain restrictions, including increasing the limit for outdoor mass gatherings to 50 individuals.
"We were approached by the Panthers with plans to bring spectators back into the stadium in September," Harris said in a statement on Tuesday. "At that point the County was still experiencing higher numbers and we informed them that their request would require an exception to the Governor’s current Executive Order. They have discussed additional options with us and with the State. The State provided the definitive guidance that the Panthers would not be able to exceed the outdoor mass gathering limit for spectators during the month of September. Under Phase 2.5 that is 50 individuals."
The Week 1 home game against the Oakland Raiders is the Panther's only game in Charlotte in September. The team is hopeful they can deploy their safety plans and welcome fans to Bank of America stadium for future games.
The Panthers have been practicing with new coronavirus safety guidelines with players and staff being tested and monitored.
Defensive back Derrek Thomas became their first player to be placed on the reserve and/or coronavirus list. The designation of being on the COVID-19 reserve list either means Thomas has tested positive for the coronavirus or that he was exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. Thomas is the first Panthers player to be put on the list. Up until this point, the Panthers were one in only a handful of teams that had not placed any players on the list.
North Carolina has seen 166,127 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus and 2,692 deaths, according to date updated Monday by the state. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,186 Monday, also an additional 10 coronavirus-related deaths. Hospitalizations continue to generally decline with 923 people in the hospital statewide.
Neighboring South Carolina has seen 116,697 total cases of COVID-19 with 2,574 deaths, according to their latest numbers released Sunday. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced 1,019 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 11 confirmed deaths on Sunday. The percentage of positive tests in South Carolina was 21.5%, and the state completed 4,730 tests Saturday. As of Sunday, there are 956 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide.
Mecklenburg County, home to the City of Charlotte and Bank of America stadium, has seen 25,386 Mecklenburg County residents and 295 related deaths. According to Mecklenburg County data, the percentage of positive tests has dropped to 6.4% in the past week. Hospitalizations have also dropped in the county, with an average of 145 people hospitalized over the last week.