As NBA season opens, Staples Center enforcing strict COVID-19 protocols

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As the Lakers open their season Tuesday at Staples Center, fans will face some strict COVID-19 protocols.

They'll be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours to be admitted to the game. And anyone over age 2 will be required to wear a mask.

For those who didn't prepare in advance but still want to see the game, there are options.

"We do have a (COVID) testing site on site so if you do show up by chance without a negative test or without a vaccination card, you can go to the corner of Chick Hearn and Georgia and be tested," said Lee Zeidman, president of Staples Center. "It's a rapid 15-minute antigen test."

Staples Center has no capacity limitations and just held a series of sold-out concerts. The arena is serious about following Los Angeles County COVID-19 protocols, which include wearing masks.

"If you're walking on our concourses or using our restrooms, you need to be masked," Zeidman said. "If you're coming up to the concession stands, in order to be served, you need to be masked. Once you're in your seats, you can take your mask off to eat or drink."

The changes are a sign of a pandemic that is still ongoing despite a vigorous public campaign to promote vaccination.

According to CDC and Health and Human Services data, 77% of the U.S. population now has at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But that leaves 65 million people unvaccinated, with vaccination rates near pandemic lows.

"We're not at the herd immunity level we need to be at yet," said David Bronstein, an infectious disease specialist with Kaiser Permanente. "But it's really not even so much about reaching herd immunity. It's about doing whatever you can to protect yourself and protect the people you care about."

And we now know that during July through September, the Pfizer vaccine was 93% effective against hospitalizations for kids ages 12 to 18 during the delta surge. Also, 97% of adolescents 12 years and older hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

"Hospitalizations and deaths, these things hardly ever happen in people who are vaccinated," Bronstein said. "And now we have more evidence, more data to show that the same thing applies to our adolescent population as well. And these are kids who for the most part are back in school right now and they're staying protected. They're staying in school."

Federal regulators are moving toward authorizing the mixing and matching of booster shots made by different manufacturers, after data showed a combination of shots protect against the virus. But it's believed the FDA will recommend Americans choose a booster that matches their original vaccination.

"I think mixing and matching would reduce supply chain complexity quite a bit and so the end result would be more boosters in more arms," said Dr. Ryan Ribeira with Stanford Medicine. "And that matters a lot."

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