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Hawai'i will not host fans for season-opening games

A rise in cases has revived 2020's worst trend in 2021 at one school (so far)

Hawai'i will not be allowed to host fans at any athletics events for the coming weeks, the school announced Friday. The decision was made by city and county government with an open-ended timeframe, saying it will be reevaluated "in the coming weeks."

"It is no secret I have been a lifelong supporter of UH Athletics, and its football program especially. So it is with great disappoint and regret to decide not to allow spectators in the stands to start the upcoming fall season for all sports," Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said. "However, it is a fluid situation and we will continue to evaluate based on current conditions and impacts in the healthcare community. All is not lost for the fall sports season, but we are urging people to get vaccinated now."

The decision is a window into the difference in risk appetite toward the virus in different regions of the country.

On the same day local government decided to not allow fans at its outdoor stadium, organizers of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game pitting Alabama versus Miami in Atlanta announced they're opening overflow seating for their sold-out game.

“This is going to be one of the tougher tickets that we’ve had,” Peach Bowl executive director Gary Stokan told AL.com. “We’ll have a sell-out for sure and it’ll be an electric crowd, that’s for sure.”

Georgia currently has 47 virus-related hospitalizations per 100,000 residents right now, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracker, while Alabama has 56 and Florida leads the nation with 77. Hawai'i has 23, below the national average of 26, though like everywhere else the numbers are rising, up 109 percent over the past two weeks. 

"We are disappointed because we were looking forward to playing in front of our fans again," Hawai'i David Matlin said. "However we understand the decision was made in the best interest of public safety and can only hope the restrictions will be lifted when the time is right."

The Rainbow Warriors' home opener is Sept. 4 against Portland State. Their next home game is Sept. 18 against defending Mountain West champion San Jose State. 

The Portland State game will be the first at the Ching Athletics Complex, the program's temporary new home while the Aloha Stadium situation is sorted out. 

The stadium was already set to be the smallest in FBS, and now the crowd will be the smallest in the nation, at least until two things happen. Either the case loads in Hawaii turn around and fans are allowed to attend future games or the dam has broken and empty stadiums will return for an unwelcome second season.