By Michael Kinney
The Oklahoma City Thunder put on a show for fans Friday night. Facing the Washington Wizards, they went down to the wire before falling in a tough 101-99 loss at the Paycom Center.
While the defeat extended the Thunder losing streak to five games, the evening was momentous for other reasons. It was the final night for a few of the franchise’s strictest Covid-19 protocols that had been in effect since the start of the 2021-22 campaign.
Starting Dec. 1 the Oklahoma City Thunder (6-13) will no longer require proof of vaccination or testing to attend games at the Paycom Center. They also stated they are no longer going to require children ages 2 to 11 to wear masks.
“When we announced in late September that we would begin the season with a protocol of requiring people that come into the building to either be fully or partially vaccinated or be tested, we said at the time, we would do it through the first 12 games, including the preseason games,” said Dan Mahoney, Thunder Vice-President of Corporate Communications. “This is the 12th game and so we said at the time, that we would reevaluate after the game to see what we did for December and beyond.”
According to Mahoney, the Thunder made this decision due to the decreased number of COVID-19 cases statewide and the skyrocketing vaccine rate.
The Oklahoma Department of Health reports the percentage of Oklahoma County residents 12 and older who are fully or partially vaccinated has risen to 85 percent and the number of COVID cases statewide has dropped approximately 60 percent and hospitalizations have declined at similar rates.
For the Thunder, those numbers showed it was time to loosen restrictions.
The Thunder made the official announcement Nov. 22. That same day more than 2,600 new COVID-19 cases were reported statewide. That also included 50 deaths.
For some residents, the dropping of the protocols feels rushed. Especially at a time when a new COVID-19 variant (Omicron) has been discovered and health officials are unsure of what dangers it could possess.
“Why not wait six weeks,” one Thunder fan stated. “Get through all the major holidays. There will be a much lower risk after Mid-January compared to Dec. 1st.”
However, the Thunder said they considered several factors when making their decision and listened to local health officials in the process.
“We’ll continue to monitor it. We’ll work with health professionals, particularly our partners that OU Health. We can’t look at it every day, it’s like watching the stock market every day,” Mahoney said. “You have to look for trends and we did notice that trend, but obviously, our number one goal is to keep people safe. So we’ll continue to look at it. We’ll take appropriate action if we determine that we need to do that to be safe.”
Mahoney pointed out that during the 12 games that the protocols were in place, those who attended Thunder games were overwhelmingly vaccinated.
“In those 12 games, by a large margin, the people who have come to the games have been vaccinated. Only a very few had to provide a test,” Mahoney said. “We did provide some tests for people who maybe weren’t vaccinated or came without knowing what the rules were but probably 95 percent of the fans that came to the games were vaccinated.”
Since vaccination or testing requirements for those sitting in courtside seats are determined by the NBA, they will not change at this time, according to the Thunder.
Even though the Thunder have done away with the protocols, they will continue to watch conditions around Oklahoma County and the state to see if they need to make modifications to the policy.
For everyone, it’s one step closer to a return to normalcy.
“We still encourage people to wear masks when they’re here, we encourage everyone to be vaccinated,” Mahoney said. “We’re just not going to require it as a means to enter the game.”
Michael Kinney Media