You're going to have to wait until next year, Minnesota Vikings fans — not in terms of winning games, but attending them.

The Vikings blew the whistle Wednesday on their hopes of bringing fans back to U.S. Bank Stadium during the 2020-21 season. Rising COVID-19 infection rates forced the call.

"Closing the final four home games to fans is the right decision to help protect our community," the team said in a statement released Wednesday morning.

With virus infections surging across much of the country, the Vikings didn't have much choice. Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday imposed new restrictions on gatherings in bars, restaurants and even homes to contain the fast-spreading virus that has left Twin Cities metro area hospitals with fewer than two dozen available intensive-care beds.

So the Vikings will continue as they have for much of the season, allowing only the allotted 250 friends and family members into the games to sit socially distanced in the southwestern section of a stadium that can accommodate 67,200 fans.

The Vikings aren't the only team forced to keep fans out. The New England Patriots announced Monday that fans wouldn't be allowed at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., for the remainder of the season.

Teams in states with bigger stadiums or looser restrictions have been able to get thousands inside, but no one is playing before capacity crowds.

"While we have worked hard to develop a safe and responsible plan to bring back a limited number of fans, our decisions have been based on medical guidance with public health as the top priority," the Vikings' statement said.

Early on, Walz said that letting fans return to large indoor sports and concert venues would be among the final steps in the pandemic recovery. U.S. Bank Stadium may feature giant doors, a translucent roof and a state-of-the-art air filtration system, but it's still an indoor venue.

Vikings staffers spent months devising elaborate plans to segregate the stadium into seven self-contained pods, each with its own concessions and restrooms.

Tickets would have assigned entry times and designated gates, and fans would have to remain within their pod. There were to be sanitizing stations every few steps and plenty of ushers strictly enforcing masking and social distancing.

But now it's wait until next year and see whether those plans get dusted off or scrapped. While the Vikings said they "look[ed] forward to welcoming fans back next season" to U.S. Bank Stadium, they acknowledged the return of fans to the stadium in 2021 wasn't a sure thing.

In the meantime, the team encouraged fans to "take the necessary precautions ... by wearing face coverings, practicing proper social distancing and limiting social gatherings."

The Vikings play Monday night at Soldier Field in Chicago, another city with new virus restrictions, before returning to Minneapolis to host the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 22, the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 29, the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 6 and the Bears on Dec. 20.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

Twitter: @rochelleolson