Buffalo Bills FINALLY welcome fans for the first time since 2019 following COVID-19 screenings

The Buffalo Bills were in an unfamiliar position as hosts on Saturday as the team played the Indianapolis Colts in its first home playoff game in a quarter century while also welcoming fans for the first time since 2019.

Even as New York businesses face COVID-19 restrictions, Governor Andrew Cuomo, an ardent Bills fan, and New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker recently agreed to permit around 6,700 at the team’s 71,000-seat stadium.

While that’s a new development for New York State’s only football team (the Jets and Giants play in New Jersey, which also banned fans in 2020), it’s not a major departure for the league. The NFL has deferred to local health officials to determine attendance levels amid the pandemic, which is why the Dallas Cowboys hosted 30,000 fans at their 80,000-seat stadium four times in 2020.

And the 6,700 fans at Saturday’s game had a few more hoops to jump through than other spectators around the NFL this season.

Fans arrive at Bills Stadium for an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Colts

Fans arrive at Bills Stadium for an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Colts

Fans arrive at Bills Stadium for an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Colts

Bills fans give CBS a plug in hopes of appearing on TV from the team's first home playoff game since December 28, 1996

Bills fans give CBS a plug in hopes of appearing on TV from the team's first home playoff game since December 28, 1996

Bills fans give CBS a plug in hopes of appearing on TV from the team’s first home playoff game since December 28, 1996 

A Buffalo Bills fan watches as her team warms up before an NFL wild-card playoff game

A Buffalo Bills fan watches as her team warms up before an NFL wild-card playoff game

A Buffalo Bills fan watches as her team warms up before an NFL wild-card playoff game

Health protocols are in place for fans as they arrive at Bills Stadium before Saturday's game

Health protocols are in place for fans as they arrive at Bills Stadium before Saturday's game

Health protocols are in place for fans as they arrive at Bills Stadium before Saturday’s game

A lonely Bills fans waits for the start of Saturday's playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts

A lonely Bills fans waits for the start of Saturday's playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts

A lonely Bills fans waits for the start of Saturday’s playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts

Buffalo's 71,000-seat stadium will host around 6,700 fans on Saturday amid the pandemic

Buffalo's 71,000-seat stadium will host around 6,700 fans on Saturday amid the pandemic

Buffalo’s 71,000-seat stadium will host around 6,700 fans on Saturday amid the pandemic 

First they needed to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of Saturday’s 1pm kickoff. Fans were charged an addition $63 for the screening, and asked to visit a drive-through testing center in a parking lot near the Bills’ Stadium in Orchard Park, NY on Wednesday and Thursday.

There was a 1.9 percent positivity rate among those tests, according to USA Today’s Joseph Spector, so about 130 infected fans were subsequently banned from attending the game.

Those who tested negative were asked to provide documentation before entering the stadium, as well as an ID. They’ve also been asked to agree to social distancing – which limited tailgating – and any post-game contact tracing that could be required.

In Buffalo, there was some relief that members of the so-called Bills Mafia could finally see their AFC East champions in action up close. It will be Buffalo’s first home playoff appearance since a 30-27 loss to Jacksonville on December 28, 1996, in what proved to be Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s final game. (Kelly was in attendance on Saturday)

While others may object, Bills fans in frigid Buffalo seemed unbothered by mask requirements

While others may object, Bills fans in frigid Buffalo seemed unbothered by mask requirements

While others may object, Bills fans in frigid Buffalo seemed unbothered by mask requirements

Formerly known as Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills' home usually holds as many as 71,000 fans

Formerly known as Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills' home usually holds as many as 71,000 fans

Formerly known as Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills’ home usually holds as many as 71,000 fans

Fans needed to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of Saturday's 1pm kickoff. Fans were charged an addition $63 for the screening, and asked to visit a drive-through testing center in a parking lot near the Bills' Stadium in Orchard Park, NY on Wednesday and Thursday

Fans needed to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of Saturday's 1pm kickoff. Fans were charged an addition $63 for the screening, and asked to visit a drive-through testing center in a parking lot near the Bills' Stadium in Orchard Park, NY on Wednesday and Thursday

Fans needed to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of Saturday’s 1pm kickoff. Fans were charged an addition $63 for the screening, and asked to visit a drive-through testing center in a parking lot near the Bills’ Stadium in Orchard Park, NY on Wednesday and Thursday

As pictured by WGRZ, cars lined up during the week for fans to get tested for COVID-19

As pictured by WGRZ, cars lined up during the week for fans to get tested for COVID-19

As pictured by WGRZ, cars lined up during the week for fans to get tested for COVID-19

A pair of Bills fans wait for the start of Saturday's game, where the crowd was limited to 6,700

A pair of Bills fans wait for the start of Saturday's game, where the crowd was limited to 6,700

A pair of Bills fans wait for the start of Saturday’s game, where the crowd was limited to 6,700

In Buffalo, there was some relief that members of the so-called Bills Mafia could finally see their AFC East champions in action up close. It will be Buffalo's first home playoff appearance since a 30-27 loss to Jacksonville on December 28, 1996, in what proved to be Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly's final game. Kelly (pictured) was in attendance on Saturday

In Buffalo, there was some relief that members of the so-called Bills Mafia could finally see their AFC East champions in action up close. It will be Buffalo's first home playoff appearance since a 30-27 loss to Jacksonville on December 28, 1996, in what proved to be Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly's final game. Kelly (pictured) was in attendance on Saturday

In Buffalo, there was some relief that members of the so-called Bills Mafia could finally see their AFC East champions in action up close. It will be Buffalo’s first home playoff appearance since a 30-27 loss to Jacksonville on December 28, 1996, in what proved to be Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s final game. Kelly (pictured) was in attendance on Saturday

Bills fans have a bit more space at this playoff game compared to the last one in Orchard Park

Bills fans have a bit more space at this playoff game compared to the last one in Orchard Park

Bills fans have a bit more space at this playoff game compared to the last one in Orchard Park

Cuomo had planned on attending as well, but fans and New York residents who were upset about his pandemic regulations petitioned to have him banned from the game. Ultimately the change.org petition gained over 40,000 signatures.

Fans were asked to distance and refrain from tailgating before Saturday's game

Fans were asked to distance and refrain from tailgating before Saturday's game

Fans were asked to distance and refrain from tailgating before Saturday’s game 

‘So Cuomo is going to attend our playoff game after telling us that we can only attend at less than 10% capacity?’ read the petition. ‘If he thinks he has more right to a seat in that stadium over people who have waited over 20 years for this opportunity, then people better be there to protest his entry. This is OUR team! This is OUR home. We don’t want you here.’

However, the Bills never banned Cuomo and he voluntarily gave his ticket to a healthcare professional in the Buffalo area.

‘I’m going to give my Bills ticket to a nurse from Erie County Medical Center as a way of saying thank you and honoring all health care heroes,’ the governor said at a press briefing. 

Though a Bills’ win would guarantee them playing at home again the following week, there have been no discussions as to whether fans would be allowed to attend a second game, Cohen said.

‘Everybody’s totally focused on getting the job done at hand, and then we’ll figure out if there’s going to be next steps,’ Cohen said.

Andrew Cuomo had planned on attending as well, but fans and New York residents who were upset about his pandemic regulations petitioned to have him banned from the game. Ultimately the change.org petition gained over 40,000 signatures

Andrew Cuomo had planned on attending as well, but fans and New York residents who were upset about his pandemic regulations petitioned to have him banned from the game. Ultimately the change.org petition gained over 40,000 signatures

Andrew Cuomo had planned on attending as well, but fans and New York residents who were upset about his pandemic regulations petitioned to have him banned from the game. Ultimately the change.org petition gained over 40,000 signatures

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