After initially planning for a limited number of fans to be in attendance for home games, the Oklahoma City Thunder are reversing course and will open the season with the arena empty, the team announced Monday.
"For months, we have worked in close collaboration with Chesapeake Energy Arena, the City of Oklahoma City, local health officials, and the NBA to put into place thorough health and safety measures to allow for reduced seating capacity," the team said in a statement. "However, as we review ongoing and concerning trends in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Oklahoma, we want to exercise an abundance of caution to help control the spread of the virus in our community. Therefore, the Thunder has made the decision to begin the season without fans in the arena."
On Nov. 10, the Thunder announced health and safety protocols for the upcoming season that included a plan to accommodate a reduced number of fans in attendance. The health and safety measures for games would include 6 feet of seating distance between groups, required face masks, contactless self-service ticket scanning and concessions and strict sanitation throughout the building.
Like many states across the country, Oklahoma has seen a dramatic rise in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.
"We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation over the coming weeks to determine when fans will be able to attend our games," the statement said. "We will take all necessary steps to create a safe environment for those who will be in attendance for games as the upcoming season begins, including players, coaches, staff, media and broadcasters."
The 2020-21 NBA season is slated to open Dec. 22.