North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has announced that sports arenas in the state can begin operating at limited capacity, paving the way for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets to welcome back fans.

Pending final approval from state and local authorities, the Hurricanes will host fans at 15% capacity from March 4, when the team hosts the Detroit Red Wings.

Fans at PNC Arena will be required to wear face coverings and all ticketing, parking, concessions and merchandise will be cashless to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

All seats at the arena will be grouped in pods separated by a minimum distance of six feet, with all tickets to be mobile only. High-touch surfaces will be sanitised frequently before, during and after each game, with touchless hand sanitisers to be available throughout the venue.

Don Waddell, president and general manager of the Hurricanes, said: “The Caniacs are the backbone of our franchise, and we are thrilled to welcome them back to PNC Arena. Our staff has worked extremely hard to put protocols in place to protect the health and safety of our fans, as well as our players and staff.

“We want to express our gratitude to Governor Cooper, Dr. Mandy Cohen and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for working with us to finalise this plan, and for their diligent work to keep the citizens of our state safe throughout the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the Hornets are preparing a plan to allow fans to safely return to Spectrum Center (pictured) “in the near future” and will continue to work with Governor Cooper, Mecklenburg County manager Dena Diorio and state and county health officials.

The Hornets have implemented a variety of upgrades to ensure Spectrum Center is as safe as possible, including increased levels of air filtration and purification, and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

The Hornets have also earned the GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation and the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations & Management.

In other news, the NHL’s New York Islanders have announced that the Nassau Coliseum will reopen to season ticket members from March 18, with attendance to be limited to 10% of capacity, or around 1,400 fans.

The team will also welcome 1,000 Northwell Health frontline staff on March 11 to recognise their work during the pandemic.

The Islanders’ announcement comes after fans returned to New York City sports venues on Tuesday for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak, as Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center hosted New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets NBA games.

Madison Square Garden welcomed around 2,000 fans as the Knicks fell to a 114-106 defeat against the Golden State Warriors, while 300 fans attended the Nets’ 127-118 win over the Sacramento Kings at Barclays Center.

Image: Matthew D. Britt/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size