Sanford Health bars fans from 12-game basketball tournament

Sanford Health is banning fans from attending a college basketball tournament it is sponsoring this week in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic is a new 12-game tournament scheduled for Nov. 25-30 at the Sanford Pentagon including men's and women's basketball teams from Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky, Saint Mary's, Memphis, South Dakota State, Utah State, West Virginia and Wichita State.

Sanford Health is a sponsor of the tournament, and Jeremy Cauwels, MD, senior vice president of clinic quality at the health system, advised on tournament safety measures and protocol as a member of the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group.

As of last week, crowds of up to 850 people were to be permitted in the Sanford Pentagon — about 25 percent of the arena's capacity — with mandates for masking and maintenance of social distance. There were no testing requirements in place for fans. This plan held as the CDC issued advisories last week for people to avoid Thanksgiving travel and limit gatherings to their immediate households. 

Sanford and Dr. Cauwels issued changes to the tournament Nov. 23, as South Dakota's seven-day average COVID-19 positivity rate at the time was 45.4 percent. 

"The situation involving COVID-19 continues to change, and at this point the safest thing we can do for the fans is to allow them to watch the Sanford Pentagon games from home. We believe the bubble atmosphere can keep the players and coaches safe, but the situation with COVID-19 in the community requires keeping people apart," Dr. Cauwels said in a prepared statement. "We realize that many people who were planning to make the trip to Sioux Falls will be disappointed, but we believe this is the right decision for all involved."

The health system requires all members of each team's traveling party to have a negative COVID-19 test within two days of traveling to Sioux Falls and then undergo testing immediately upon arrival in Sioux Falls, 24 hours before their first competition and once more before the final day of play.

All team members will have limited access within the facility and will remain in a controlled environment throughout their stay, according to Sanford. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sanford Health leaders have previously expressed to participating teams that the Crossover Classic is an opportunity for the 46-hospital system to bolster its national reputation as an innovator in the pandemic with a model that brings back spectator sports.

Days before the system and Dr. Cauwels made the decision to ban fans, Sanford Health leaders were reacting to a 1,000-word email from CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft in which he detailed his reasoning for not wearing a mask. Mr. Krabbenhoft said he has had COVID-19 and considers himself immune to the virus. At the time he wrote the email, he considered covering his face to be nothing more than a "symbolic gesture." The systems’ 50,000-plus employees received the email. 

"We know that words matter, and words have power, and we regret that the message left many frustrated and disappointed," Sanford’s senior leadership team wrote in response to Mr. Krabbenhoft’s message. "We want you to know unequivocally that our health system's position has not changed. We will continue to let science guide the work that we do every day to keep our communities healthy and safe. The science is clear, masks work."


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