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Timbers and Thorns unlikely to have fans at upcoming matches

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Oregon Governor Kate Brown denies the exemption request made by the Timbers and Thorns to have fans for upcoming matches.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The NWSL Challenge Cup Final is coming up soon for Portland Thorns FC, but there likely won’t be anyone there to watch it in person. Oregon governor Kate Brown’s deputy communication’s director, Charles Boyle, told The Oregonian/OregonLive by email that there will not be an exemption made to allow spectators to come to Providence Park amid heightened coronavirus restrictions.

“There will be no exemptions for this weekend,” Charles said in an email. “The Extreme Risk health and safety restrictions will remain in effect.”

Both the Thorns and the Portland Timbers submitted a proposal earlier this week to allow fans at up to 15% capacity for the upcoming Thorns match against Gotham FC on Saturday and the Timbers match against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday. The proposal also noted that they would eliminate food and beverage sales in hopes of bettering their chances of being approved. NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird also made a request to Brown’s office that was denied, although the elimination of food and beverage was not mentioned.

The Thorns and Timbers were allowed to have fans at matches earlier this year, but that has since been reduced due to a spike in COVID-19 cases that prompted Brown to put 15 counties at “extreme risk” level for restrictions.

Timbers and Thorns President of Business Mike Golub said that, while they are understanding of the state’s decision, the two clubs find their proposals to be reasonable.

“We’re very sensitive to the challenges the state is trying to navigate in getting us out of COVID,” Golub said. “At the same time, there’s a reason why every other state is allowing fans at their outdoor venues, and we hope Oregon does the same. We think our proposal is really reasonable, exceedingly safe and reflective of the phase we’re in, while taking into account all the science and facts that we know about outdoor venues.”

“Every other outdoor sports venue in the country is allowing fans — period,” Golub added. “Our overall health policy has been very aligned with Washington and California, and Gov. Brown has said that publicly. California is currently allowing 33% at outdoor venues; Washington is allowing 25% at outdoor venues. So while we are aware and sensitive to the uptick in (coronavirus) numbers, we also strongly believe that sitting in a 500,000-square foot stadium, socially distanced and wearing masks, is safe and no different than going to the beach or going to the park.”

In a letter retrieved by The Oregonian/OregonLive that was sent to Baird in response to the NWSL’s request, Brown’s office denied it because of the public health risk posed.

“Unfortunately, granting your request to allow fans in the stands would pose too great a public health risk, when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging in Oregon,” the letter said. “Oregon is in the middle of our fourth surge of COVID-19. In the last two weeks, Oregon’s case rate has increased faster than in any other state in the nation. In the last year, we have learned what follows when cases increase: hospitalizations and deaths. Modeling from Oregon Health & Science University indicates that the difficult decisions we make by acting now will save hundreds of lives and prevent hundreds of people from being hospitalized.

“Governor Brown understands how much Oregonians enjoy attending live sporting events, but, for right now, that doesn’t outweigh the very real risk of resulting hospitalizations, and possibly even deaths with our current levels of COVID-19 spread.”

For both stories from The Oregonian/OregonLive, click here and here