On the heels of Santa Clara County forcing the San Francisco 49ers out of Levi’s Stadium with new COVID-19 restrictions, the NFL has had communications with both of its Los Angeles franchises about safeguarding against a forced move to alternative playing sites in the coming weeks, two league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The sources said the steps being taken by the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams include troubleshooting potential practice and stadium sites outside the state of California, similar to the 49ers’ sudden relocation of their operations and home game dates to Arizona this week. Both teams are said to be eyeing backup plans that could include the use of another NFL facility in neighboring states. The sources said the planning by the franchises began swiftly in the wake of the 49ers being forced out of Santa Clara County, but have also been driven by a ramping up of COVID-19 restrictions at the state and Los Angeles County levels.
“[NFL] operations may not be able to continue [in California] soon and considering where we’re at in the schedule, dramatic changes like the 49ers’ relocation of operations could encompass the remainder of the season,” one source said. “That could be the case for all of the teams [in California]. The situation is being monitored and how it will impact the rest of the season is a little fluid right now. But the best thing everyone can do is just prepare for any eventuality.”
What L.A. County restrictions could mean for Rams, Chargers
As viral infections have spiraled in California recently and hospitals have come under greater strain to respond, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order ramping up COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday. The order would go into effect on a county-by-county basis and be triggered by each locality’s ICU bed capacity. If the locality has ICU availability that dwindles to less than 15 percent, the restrictions go into effect for that county. Once in place, the order puts tighter limits on travel, community events and retail-level shopping. The new set of restrictions are slated to begin Saturday for the qualifying counties and span for at least three weeks once the restrictions are triggered. The mandate could also raise restrictions further in the coming weeks and possibly run through the end of 2020.
“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said in a Thursday news conference to announce the new set of restrictions. “If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see our death rate climb [and have] more lives lost.”
As it stands, Los Angeles County is not yet in the zone to implement the restrictions. However, the county’s infection and hospitalization rate is expected to eventually bring it under Newsom’s order — possibly as early as next week. That could jeopardize the game day and practice facility operations of the Chargers and Rams.
What the NFL doesn’t want is a repeat of the messy back-and-forth between the 49ers and Santa Clara County officials, which made headlines last week when the team suggested that it was blindsided by an order banning contact sports for a period of at least three weeks. That sparked a prickly exchange between San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan and Santa Clara County officials, who said the team was kept in the loop about potential changes in COVID-19 restrictions.
The Santa Clara County order shuttered two home games for the 49ers and ultimately forced the team to relocate its entire operations to Glendale, Arizona, where the franchise will utilize the Cardinals’ practice fields and stadium through at least Dec. 21. Given the direction of California’s tightening of COVID-19 restrictions, there is a possibility that San Francisco may also be forced to remain in Arizona through the final weeks of the regular season.
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