Miami Heat will have ‘vaccinated-only’ fan sections starting next month

The Miami Heat of the National Basketball Association is setting aside two lower-level sections at their American Airlines home court for fans who have been “fully” vaccinated for COVID-19 and can document same. Whether vaccinated or not, attendees are still required to wear masks inside the facility, although social distancing will apparently be somewhat less stringent in the vaccinated areas.

The Miami franchise is the first to establish this kind of conditional seating arrangement. Other NBA teams, however, are reportedly also considering vaccine-only seating as the league allows additional, albeit limited in-person attendance. The way the copycat sports industry generally works, it is probably reasonable to expect that preferred COVID-vaccine seating will emerge in other leagues as well.

Common sense suggests that the possibility also exists that the exclusive seating arrangement in Miami or elsewhere will eventually expand beyond a mere two sections as the private sector seems to be stepping up efforts to convince people to get vaccinated, which may or may not lead to some form of a bifurcated society.

The Miami policy goes into effect on April 1 with the game against the visiting Golden State Warriors and requires vaccinated fans to enter through a specific gate, and ticket holders sitting together must come in at the same time.

This season, the team has already stationed coronavirus-detecting dogs at entrances as it has admitted a relatively small number of fans into the building. The Heat has allowed a range of 2,000-3,000 fans to watch each home game this season. For basketball games, American Airlines Arena has a total capacity of nearly 20,000 fans.

Kids who have yet to be deemed eligible for the COVID jab can’t sit with parents in the special seating area under the current policy, even if the parents are inoculated, however.

The heat released a statement about the new seating policy, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

The Heat have allocated two sections in the lower level to fully vaccinated fans. These seats will be located in Sections 117-118 and the pods of seats will be separated by just one seat. Fully vaccinated fans will be admitted through a separate gate and will be required to present a proof of a Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued COVID-19 vaccination card showing their vaccination certification dated at least 14 days prior to the game date along with a valid government issued ID.

NBA management has reportedly approved such measures under certain conditions and subject to public health guidelines on the state and local level. “If any of the sections provided by teams include seats within 30 feet of the court, fans in those seats will have to take a PCR test two days prior to the game or an approved antigen test on game day,” AP reported. The league is also encouraging separate restrooms and concession areas to minimize comingling between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

So-called pods of seated fans in the rest of the building are currently separated by six feet.

As a result of the pandemic, the NBA finished the 2019-2020 season in a bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., with no fans present.

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Robert Jonathan

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