Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Tuesday the county supports having Highmark Stadium and KeyBank Center filled with fans to see the Bills and Sabres play next season in the fall, but they’ll have to show proof they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Unless you are vaccinated you will not have entry to the stadium,” Poloncarz said. “It is easy. It is safe. We can then guarantee 70,000-plus people at the stadium.”
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw wrote a letter against the idea to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and said he plans to fight it however he can.
A petition popped up on change.org asking the Bills to challenge the mandate in court.
Attorney John Elmore says there is a balance between individual rights of those who don’t want the vaccine, and the greater public health.
“It would create some interesting legal challenges,” Elmore said. “The government has a right to protect the general public from disease. And if there’s going to be a public gathering where this terrible disease could spread even more, it seems to me that the government has a rational basis for protecting the public.”
Elmore says people could try to fight the policy in court on the basis of religious freedom.
“It’s possible that there could be challenges from some evangelicals or other religious groups that want to enjoy a Bills game but can’t because they haven’t been vaccinated,” he said.
Elmore adds that the words of Chief Justice John Roberts in a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the dealing with health care leads him to believe that the county does have the right to mandate vaccines to attend Bills and Sabres games
“In emergency situations where there’s fraught with medical and scientific undertaking and moment to moment management that it’s best left up to the elected officials who are directly accountable to the public to make those types of decisions,” he said.
The Bills and Sabres both said they will continue to cooperate and comply with New York State and local government regulations regarding their sporting events.