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Officials Announce Return Of Football Games, Before Miami-Dade's COVID Positivity Rate Maintains A Week of Steady Numbers

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The Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens is taking steps to limit contact among football fans at upcoming games in September 2020.

Up to 13,000 football fans will be able to gather inside Hard Rock Stadium next month for a couple of games, including the University of Miami taking on the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Sept. 10 and the Miami Dolphins’ home opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 20. The number was decided on as planners arranged for six feet of distance between groups of seats.

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Many seats at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens will be blocked to keep a six-feet distance between groups.

The stadium has also undergone a number of changes, as listed by Miami Dolphins Vice Chair and CEO Tom Garfinkel. They include hospital-grade air conditioning filters and touchless sinks, soap dispensers and toilets. He spoke at a press conference at the stadium Monday. People will get a text message to come pick up food they can order via their phones.

"We got our people in our technology department together, built an app for food ordering, changed out concessions so that you can order food from your seat and go pick it up like curbside service at concessions, so we alleviate lines there," said Garfinkel, adding that tailgating has also been eliminated at parking lots and alcohol will not be sold after halftime.

Beyond those changes, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert urged people to do their part to take care of themselves and the public. Those with chronic health conditions who are more susceptible to a coronavirus infection should stay home, he suggested.

"Don’t be selfish. If you’re feeling bad, get tested," Gilbert said. "You need to be a good member of the community with all of this."

In Miami-Dade County, the rate at which people test positive has remained below 10 percent since Aug. 18, and COVID-19 data across the state has shown improvements. Hospitalizations with COVID-19 diagnoses in Florida have declined, and the percentage of adult ICU beds available at hospitals across South Florida has also increased.

"We continue to see downward even with Disney open and people coming," said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also pointing to the openings at Universal Orlando and SeaWorld at the press conference. "I think that that goes to show you, is that when you do things and you just do the basic precautions you’re able to do and have society work without contributing in a major way to outbreaks.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said people need to keep wearing their masks to keep it down.

"Just because we are going to have fans in the stadium doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is over in our community," Gimenez said. "Just because we’re looking at opening up other sectors of our community or other sectors of our economy here in Miami-Dade, doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is over."

Moving forward, if COVID-19 numbers worsen, they won’t allow fans back, but if positive case numbers and the positivity rate continue on a downward trend, the stadium will consider allowing half capacity. The stadium has more than 65,000 seats.

Infectious disease experts say the positivity rate should remain below 10 percent for 14 days in order to lift more business restrictions.

Last week at another press conference, Gimenez said he didn't plan to lift business restrictions for the time being, after consulting with White House Coronavirus Task Force members Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, but he said Monday that he will be announcing changes to indoor dining rules in the coming days.

Diane Roberts, an English Professor at Florida State University and author of "Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America," spoke with WLRN Sundial host Luis Hernandez, and said college football seasons produce a lot of money for the economies of cities like Tallahassee, which brings in about $50 million a year.

Others expressed disappointment on decisions made in Miami on public platforms like Twitter.

"It is difficult to open anything in a pandemic, much less a stadium for live sporting events, when you have community spread," wrote U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, a Miami Democrat, in a tweet. "We'll continue seeing inconsistent progress fighting this virus if we again loosen restrictions immediately just as cases are starting to go down."