Could Chicago and Illinois soon see the return of fans in the stands at professional sporting events?
As some fans begin to return to stands in places long shut down, like Barclays Center in New York, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said discussions are "underway" for Illinois.
As of Friday, all of Illinois remained under Phase 4 of the state's reopening plan, having lifted months of tiers mitigations earlier this year as cases and hospitalizations continue to decline.
"I don't want to jump ahead of this process. I mean, honestly, we are relying upon the epidemiologists as well as the, you know, figuring out how we can practically get that done," Pritzker said Friday. "We all are very, very hopeful that the numbers - as they have really done well in the state of Illinois so far - keep going that way. But you know, Sen. [Dick] Durbin talked about the other variants that are out there. And so we just want to be wary and careful about what we do. But but certainly those discussions are continuing."
Earlier this month, Dr. Allison Arwady, the director of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that while the city is making “good progress,” sports teams were still likely “months away” from allowing fans to attend games.
Currently, the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks are playing home games at the United Center, with no fans allowed in the building. The Chicago Cubs and White Sox, who are reporting to Arizona for spring training, will open their 2021 seasons in April, but it is unclear if fans will be allowed to attend contests at Wrigley Field or Guaranteed Rate Field.
The Cubs and White Sox played their 2020 seasons without fans in the stands, and the Chicago Bears did the same at Soldier Field, with no fans in attendance at any of their eight home games.
Each of the teams said they are keeping in close contact with health officials about the situation. Some other franchises have begun to allow fans in a limited capacity at their games, including several NHL and NBA teams.
At the same time, Chicago's major sporting arenas are also being considered for mass vaccination sites.
The United Center will become a federally-run mass vaccination site beginning next month, officials announced Friday.
The venue will open as a vaccination site on March 10, officials announced, adding that the site will be able to administer 6,000 shots per day at full capacity, with priority given to seniors. All Illinois residents who qualify under Phase 1B plus of the state's plan will eventually be eligible, however.
For a look at who is eligible to be vaccinated at the United Center under Phase 1B Plus, click here.
Chicago health officials had previously said they were also looking into creating mass vaccination sites at several sports stadiums once supply to the city is increased.
Arwady said earlier this month that the department also looked into hosting mass-vaccination sites at Wrigley Field and Soldier Field, but planned to wait until the city’s allotment of vaccines increases.
“We are completely ready to stand up mass vaccination sites, but it’s about vaccine,” she said during a Facebook Live.
While Arwady previously said that fans won’t be allowed into buildings yet, she also added she is “optimistic” that the city is approaching the day when supporters will once again be able to head to arenas and stadiums to cheer on their favorite teams.