The spike of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the delta variant courses through Washington, and across America, makes an undeniable case that more people must get vaccinated. Washington state sports teams, professional and collegiate, deserve fans’ support for making vaccination or a clear COVID screening a requirement for admission.
Although the Seattle Kraken have yet to debut, the team has jumped to first place in this regard, joining a handful of other National Hockey League teams in requiring vaccination to get in. This was something of an easier move for the Kraken, weeks ahead of the Oct. 23 home opener, than for the Seahawks, Storm, Mariners and Sounders, all of which have games sooner than a fan can be fully vaccinated. It places the brand new hockey team among the vanguard for public health activism by a sports franchise, a remarkable stand by a team still establishing its fan base.
The Seahawks, Storm and Sounders, as well as the University of Washington Huskies and Washington State University Cougars football teams will also accept a negative test to get into the stands, which still improves safety.
The Mariners should have adopted a similar requirement while playing meaningful September baseball, rather than delaying a vaccination policy until an as-yet-unearned playoff appearance. The team had plenty of time to prepare for this scenario. The Los Angeles Times reported in January that Major League Baseball had empowered teams to make their own decisions about COVID-19 screenings and vaccination requirements. Statewide mask requirements began returning to combat the delta surge on Aug. 18. Restrictions on gatherings have ratcheted up since.
Tuesday’s announcements by so many sports teams should instill hope among fans and the broader public that collective improvement is possible. Painful months of senseless polarization about vaccinations hindered progress against this pandemic.
The correct move is to normalize, not polarize, vaccinations. If Huskies and Cougars alike can get on board, as is now the case, solidarity can emerge in other quarters too. As of Sept. 7, 67% of the 12-and-up Washington population had been fully vaccinated, after awareness campaigns, cash giveaways and other government outreach. The sports teams’ admission requirements can help convince even more of the hesitant public to accept the demonstrably safe and effective vaccines — and make rejoining the bleacher throngs safer for everyone. That’s cause to stand up and cheer.