(CNN) On March 11, sports in the United States came to terms with the arrival of the coronavirus.
An NBA player tested positive shortly before tipoff in Oklahoma City, forcing the game’s cancellation. Within days, every major sports league in the US had shut down.
The ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to be felt in all corners of American life, as the nation approaches a full year’s worth of personal and economic devastation. Nearly 400,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.
Amid the turmoil, sports teams and cities opened their empty facilities for assistance efforts. Because of their day-to-day experiences with traffic flow, crowd control and project management, arenas and stadiums proved practical as Covid-19 testing sites and food banks.
During the 2020 election season, some became early voting and Election Day centers, allowing Americans easier access to voting while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
Sports leagues eventually restarted in summer with only limited crowds at a few select events. Many grandstands remain silent, yet their usefulness is apparent heading into the new year. The abrupt shift witnessed in 2020, from entertainment outlets to critical resource centers, provided images that were often hard to believe.
“It’s the speed that this is hitting us that is making it so difficult to contend with,” Fitzgerald said. “The current inventories that we have in place were not designed to serve the numbers of people who need help now.”
To help with dispensing, food centers were established by charities and organizations at stadiums nationwide.
Stadium parking lots in the spring and summer, filled in years past by tailgaters, staff and street vendors, instead became home to pop-up tents for Covid-19 testing.
Nurses and health practitioners administered PCR nasal tests at a multitude of sports facilities, as state and federal governments raced to understand how widespread the virus had become.
Massive parking lots kept cars off main roads, freeing up traffic. The sheer volume of those in need, however, meant lines would stretch beyond anything expected.
Arenas and stadiums across the country opened their doors in the fall for an additional purpose: polling locations during the 2020 election cycle. This gave many voters an alternate way to submit ballots and stay safe by limiting proximity to others and potential Covid-19 exposure.
“State Farm Arena is an ideal solution to help us serve thousands of voters while maintaining social distancing requirements,” Mary Carole Cooney, chairperson of the Fulton County Board of Registration & Elections, said in June. “We appreciate the Hawks for coming to us with this creative solution.”
The vaccines cleared for emergency use authorization in December by the Food and Drug Administration have given the nation a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Mayor Eric Garcetti referred to it as the “biggest vaccination site in the country,” urging eligible residents to get the vaccine. Other stadium programs are underway.
David Ortiz, public information officer for the LA City Fire Department, told CNN’s Paul Vercammen that working with the Dodgers and using their stadium lot is a boon for the county’s vaccination efforts.
“Three hundred and sixty-five acres of prime real estate in downtown Los Angeles, available for us to use to help and take care of people. We couldn’t have done this without them,” Ortiz said.