It’s safe to say we all miss sports. This time of year, rain or shine, stadiums and arenas should typically have thousands of roaring fans cheering for their favorite team. However, facilities have had to completely change the playbook when it comes to game day.
Eager to get fans back in the stands safely when attendance is permitted, some teams are notably setting the standard when it comes to ensuring the health and safety of athletes, staff, vendors and fans.
Photo: Before entering a facility, look for the seal. “The WELL Health Safety Rating is designed to be a kind of shorthand – when you see the seal outside, you can feel more confident going inside,” says Rachel Gutter, president of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). Credit: New York Yankees
Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees, recently became the first sports and entertainment venue in the world to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management.
Launched in June and created by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the WELL Health-Safety Rating is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating for all facility types, focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans and stakeholder education to address a post-COVID-19 environment now and broader health and safety-related issues into the future.
The rating requirements, which have been fulfilled by Yankee Stadium, serve as a blueprint for best operating procedures to help combat COVID-19, while also providing world-class standards for overall health and safety.
“A lot of what stadiums and entertainment venues are now thinking about is how to demonstrate to their constituents that they’re doing the right things and taking as many precautions as possible by making their efforts and achievements visible to athletes, fans and staff alike,” says Rachel Gutter, president of IWBI. “If your players and staff don’t feel like you are capable of supporting their safety, or if your fans don’t have line of sight to what you are doing to uphold their health, they are not going to return.”
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Gutter says the WELL Health-Safety Rating is designed to be a kind of shorthand – “when you see the seal outside, you can feel more confident going inside.” By achieving this designation, which has been confirmed by a third-party verifier, Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), she states the club can operate with confidence that they are utilizing best practices for players and staff, and that they are appropriately prepared to accommodate the reintroduction of fans when approved to do so by Major League Baseball and local governmental authorities.
Yankee’s Health and Safety Strategy
The WELL Health-Safety Rating leverages insights drawn from the IWBI COVID-19 Task Force, in addition to guidance developed by:
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Global disease control and prevention centers and emergency management agencies
- Recognized standard-making bodies, such as ASTM International and ASHRAE
- Leading academic and research institutions
(Photo: The WELL Health-Safety Rating achieved by the Yankees is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating for all new and existing buildings and spaces. The WELL Health-Safety Rating provides operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans and stakeholder engagement strategies to help organizations prepare and maintain their spaces for re-entry in a post COVID-19 environment. Credit: IWBI)
The Yankees joined more than 100 organizations, encompassing over 500 facilities, who enrolled in the documentation-based program at launch and who have begun implementing its scientific guidance. Yankee Stadium achieved the WELL Health-Safety Rating by implementing features across five categories:
- Air and water quality management, which includes the assessment of ventilation and fresh air supply through mechanical or natural means, and reviewing inventory of all filters and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) equipment.
- Cleaning and sanitization procedures, including ensuring proper handwashing and surface contact by staff, improving cleaning practices and their frequency, and selecting cleaning products that disinfect without harmful ingredients.
- Emergency preparedness programs, which provide a blueprint for dealing with unforeseen events and providing an actionable plan for re-entry after an emergency event.
- Health service resources, which promote the well-being of employees through screening services, mental health services, seasonal vaccination programs and a smoke-free environment.
- Stakeholder engagement and communications, which include employing proper signage throughout Yankee Stadium and promoting health literacy to employees, partners and patrons, including food service safety verification.
Although at the time of this writing the club is playing without attending fans (like all MLB teams), the implemented features help signify that the New York Yankees are prioritizing the health and safety of all who walk through the stadium’s doors. Looking at the facility’s history, it’s no surprise the team was the first to step up to the plate to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating.
[Related: 5 Important Tasks for Reopening Buildings During COVID-19]
In January 2019, the team hired Dr. Allen Hershkowitz as its environmental science advisor, believed to be the first position of its kind in professional sports. Shortly after, in April, the club made headlines again by becoming the first major North American sports team to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, the aim of which is to bring greenhouse emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement and inspire others to take ambitious climate action.
A Pandemic Playbook for Facilities
Although the WELL Health-Safety Rating is still fairly new, it’s making its way into other leagues. As football fills television screens once again, the Dallas Cowboys is another professional sports team making major strides behind the scenes to get ready for the day when crowds return. The Texas team’s AT&T Stadium is the first in the National Football League working toward the WELL Health-Safety Rating.
Dealing with the pandemic going forward, Gutter believes that some of the interim strategies organizations are considering aren’t appropriate as long-term strategies as it relates to both sustainability and our well-being. Approaches such as dedensification, social distancing and widespread use of hand sanitizer and single use plastics may work for now, but vaccination support, air quality improvement measures and re-thinking ingress and egress are more in line with long-term approaches, she says.
“Codifying this process so we can respond more efficiently to future circumstances is part of the goal,” Gutter explains. “This is also all the more reason this rating will need to be reviewed and renewed year to year.”
Gutter notes that measures to address acute health risks beyond COVID-19, such as emergency preparedness planning and flu vaccination availability, are part of the WELL Health-Safety Rating as well. Owners, operators and tenants can learn more about pursuing the WELL Health-Safety Rating at www.wellcertified.com/health-safety.
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