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Bears have ‘good plan’ to keep fans safe at Soldier Field, mayor says

But there’s a catch: It will happen only when the “second surge” of coronavirus cases has ended, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. That surge prompted the city to ban indoor bar service and force restaurants to close at 10 p.m.

Soldier Field before the start of the Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011.
The Chicago Bears want fans back at Soldier Field, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday they appear to have a good idea how to do that safely.
Sun-Times file

When and if Chicago gets a handle on its “second surge” of the coronavirus, the Bears just might be playing their home games before a limited live audience at Soldier Field.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday the Bears have presented the city with a plan detailed enough to make her comfortable that fans can safely return to the stands at Soldier Field.

But not yet.

It will happen only when Chicago’s “health metrics” — including its 7% positivity rate and surging hospitalization from the coronavirus — start “trending in a very different direction.”

“I hope that we can get there. I’m a multi-decade Bears fan. And it is different watching it remotely than being in the stadium,” the mayor said.

“I think they’ve got a good plan to keep people safe. But, the public health metrics right now are very challenging for us to initiate fans in the stadium. I hope we get there before the season is over and before it gets too cold. But, now is not the time. They understand that and agree.”

And what exactly is the Bears’ plan to keep fans safe?

Lightfoot would say only that the level of detail is precisely what she demanded from the Bears.

“The lawyer that I am, I asked them, ‘What’s the plan for ingress? How are we gonna minimize crowds at the security checkpoints? What happens once the fans are in the stands? How will they go to the bathrooms and get concessions? And then, of course, what happens when we exit? How are you gonna do that?’” Lightfoot said.

“Their plan starts from the moment that fans pull up in the parking lot. People enter in different sections. They’ve got the stadium divided up. And I think it’s a good plan. I won’t give any more details at this point.”

Bears spokesman Scott Hagel said team officials have been “working closely with the mayor’s staff and monitoring the environment in assessing the plan to determine the right time.”

He added: “We’ve been incredibly appreciative of her and her staff’s collaboration on this project to ultimately bring fans back to Soldier Field.”

Last Sunday, the Bears beat the Carolina Panthers before more than 5,100 fans in Charlotte.

The Panthers are one of 15 NFL teams playing their home games with fans in the stands.

The Dallas Cowboys top the list with an average attendance of 24,262 fans or 24.3% capacity. That’s followed by: the Jacksonville Jaguars (15,058 or 22.2%); the Kansas City Chiefs (13,978 or 18.3%); the Houston Texans (12,257 or 17%) and the Miami Dolphins (11,405 or 17%).

Lightfoot refused to say what a safe capacity would be at Soldier Field or whether it would allow Bears season ticket holders like herself to bundle up and return to the lakefront stadium.

In July, the Cubs devised strict protocols they believed would allow as many as 7,000 fans to safely attend games at Wrigley Field midway through the pandemic-shortened season.

It called for fans in groups of two, four and six with designated gates and staggered entry and exist windows.

At the time, Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney told the Sun-Times the Cubs were eager to test their limited capacity plan, not so much for the sorely-needed revenue, but to “see how the ballpark operates with those rules,” he said.

“We have to plan for the potential of that happening next year, where we’re not allowed to have full capacity in the ballpark where it wouldn’t be safe to do that,” Kenney said then.

“Getting a little bit of a look in a pilot program this year to see how ingress, egress, concessions, restrooms, ticket sales might work would be really helpful to get ready for next season.”

Unfortunately for the Cubs, time ran out before the city and Major League Baseball could approve the plan. And after winning their division, the Cubs were swept by the Marlins in the first round of the playoffs.