The COVID pandemic and its limitations arrived nearly a year ago like an unwelcome guest bursting through a door, but the crisis isn't going to end as if that door is slamming back shut. The lifting of restrictions will be gradual, at times maddeningly inconsistent and, above all, conditional.
One example is letting fans back into ballparks as the Major League Baseball season begins. The Twins would like to fill 10,000 seats a game, about a quarter of capacity at Target Field. They'd like to start for their home opener April 8. They'll need Gov. Tim Walz to allow it. Walz should.
Last year as things were shutting down, the impact of COVID-19 was a looming mystery. High caution was needed because the information level was low and strategies for preventing the spread of the virus were being formulated on the spot. Nearly 12 months later, the Twins have a good plan: Seating in clusters of two or four, with distance between groups. Masks required whenever the mouths they're covering are not taking in concessions. Contactless ordering and payment via app for said concessions. And more.
Not to mention: Baseball in Minnesota these days — some of us still can't believe our good fortune — is played outdoors.
As we wrote in an editorial a few weeks ago, limited attendance with mitigation measures has been largely safe at outdoor sporting events. For instance, the NFL hosted 1.2 million fans at 116 games last fall, tracked COVID results with local health authorities and found no clusters of positive cases.
COVID tracking also took place after the Super Bowl, played Feb. 7 before 25,000 fans — less than half capacity — at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. More fans participated in tailgate gatherings outside the stadium. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told an editorial writer that the league is still waiting for information from the Florida Department of Health, but he relayed a Tampa TV stations's report in which a professor at the University of South Florida's Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research said that "we are seeing no impact from the Super Bowl in the numbers."
There have been down years in the Twins' history when the team would have had trouble attracting 10,000 fans to some games, but over the first 10 normal seasons at Target Field, the average was 30,000. The Star Tribune's Michael Rand asked on Twitter whether Twins fans would want to attend now if they could. He reported a "pretty even split," with some respondents enthusiastic and others planning to hold out until they're vaccinated.
One day we may sense that the door on crisis-level COVID-19 has quietly latched shut. We may not hear the satisfying click when it happens. Until then, progress will be mixed. At the moment, we're still hitting milestones.