Saratogians have finally received the good news they’ve been waiting for: Saratoga Race Course will be able to open, at least in some capacity, for this summer’s racing season. In a February 10 press conference, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that beginning February 23, New York State entertainment and sporting events in major stadiums and arenas with a capacity of 10,000 people or more can reopen at 10 percent capacity. Saratoga Race Course does fit that criteria, as do the New York Racing Association’s (NYRA’s) two other racetracks, Belmont and Aqueduct. “NYRA applauds Governor Cuomo for taking action today to get New Yorkers back to work and fans back in seats,” said Patrick McKenna, NYRA’s senior director of communications. “NYRA is reviewing the newly announced guidelines to determine how they apply to Aqueduct Racetrack, where the first floor is currently the site of a New York State COVID-19 vaccination center, and to Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.” Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park were included in lists of New York venues that should be able to reopen (along with Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Carrier Dome) published by ESPN and syracuse.com.
“While we continue to fight COVID on multiple fronts, we must also get this economy re-opened intelligently and in a balanced way,” Gov. Cuomo said on Wednesday. “Live sports and entertainment have long been engrained in the fabric of New York and the inability to hold events has only added to the isolation we have all felt at the hands of this virus.”
The governor went on to say that the state is using the program that got fans into Buffalo Bills games during their long-awaited post-season run last month, as a model for the reopening of more venues. That program involves venues attaining Department of Health approval; limiting attendance to 10 percent capacity; ensuring that all staff and spectators have received a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event; mandating face coverings, social distancing and temperature checks for all those in attendance; mandating assigned, social distanced seating; collecting contact information for all those in attendance for contact-tracing purposes; meeting air filtration, ventilation and purification standards; and ensuring that retail, food services and athletic activities abide by state-issued guidance. The Barclays Center has already been approved to reopen for the Brooklyn Nets’ game against the Sacramento Kings on February 23.
Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) does not seem to be included in the list of venues that can reopen, because it doesn’t meet the “assigned seating” criteria. SPAC’s capacity is more than 25,000, but only 5,103 of those seats are in the amphitheater. The remaining 20,000 seats are on the lawn, where it’s very difficult to enforce social distancing. “Though the new guidelines for arenas and stadiums do not currently pertain to SPAC, we are thankful for Governor Cuomo’s commitment to bringing back the arts in a safe and smart way,” says Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC’s president and CEO. “He recognizes the tremendous value of the arts in our state and this action is another step in reopening New York’s economy. We look forward to working with his administration as reopening continues so we can once again welcome audiences back to SPAC in 2021 in accordance with all applicable health and safety protocols,”
Of course, it’s only February and a lot can change before the SPAC and racing seasons get underway. Let’s cross our fingers and hope things change for the better.