TACOMA, Wash. — The Tacoma Rainiers have not had a game at Cheney Stadium in 21 months.
Now, they are scheduled to be the first Washington sports venue to offer a vaccinated section for fans starting on Thursday at the season opener.
"It's a very significant moment internally," said Rainiers President Aaron Artman.
The Rainiers were quick to pivot to allow the vaccination-only section, after Gov. Jay Inslee opened the door to such a concept earlier this week.
Washington state updated guidelines for spectator events and church services on May 3, allowing venues to add designated "vaccinated only" sections for fans. Outdoor facilities may add vaccinated sections until their total capacity is at 50%, or 22,000 people, whichever is lower.
Physical distancing won't be required in vaccinated-only sections. People seated in those sections may be seated directly next to other groups.
Outdoor unvaccinated spectators cannot exceed 9,000 people, according to the guidelines.
The Rainiers, the Mariners top affiliate, are the first sports franchise to attempt such a move.
"We are the lab rat on this officially," said Artman. "But we're excited about it."
He said the front office has had more positive than negative feedback, but that the negative feedback has been loud. Artman also said he believes that the franchise is taking a leadership position in the community, by offering up an "incentive" to get vaccinated.
After all, the section includes the best seats in the house behind home plate.
"It's important to lead in this scenario particularly in pierce county where there is danger of us going back to Phase 1 - and if you look at the data, where the most cases are in pierce county also have the lowest vaccination rates, those things are correlated," he said. "If we can stand out and take a little heat, but lead and it does inspire more people to get vaccinated we're doing our part as well for every restaurant and bar, and retail establishment."
Fans who purchase single-game tickets in vaccinated sections must provide proof of their COVID-19 vaccination at the gate. Vaccination cards or an immunization record can be accepted as proof under the new guidelines. Fans who cannot provide proof of vaccination, but purchased tickets for the vaccinated section will be seated in the non- vaccinated section or given a voucher for a future game.
Kids in the vaccinated section ages 2 to 15 will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test that was taken no more than 72 hours before entering Cheney Stadium. The Tacoma Rainiers are also offering self-administered rapid COVID-19 testing outside of the stadium for fans who were not able to get tested before the game.
If a fan tests positive, no one from that fan's party will be able to enter the stadium. However, they will be given vouchers to a future game. Fans sitting in vaccinated sections will still need to wear a mask unless they are eating or drinking.
For more details on COVID-19 safety measures and changes, check out the Tacoma Rainiers' website.