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County order could force San Jose Sharks to play games without fans

The NHL might have the first North American pro sports team forced into a decision on playing with no fans in attendance. Santa Clara County is banning public events of more than 1,000 people to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

A general view of the San Jose Sharks playing against the Vegas Golden Knights at SAP Center on October 04, 2019 in San Jose, California. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks could become the first team in major North American sports to play a contest before no fans due to coronavirus concerns. Santa Clara county, home of the Sharks’ SAP Center, announced on Monday that they are banning gatherings of more than 1,000 people starting Wednesday, according to NBC Bay Area.

There had been 43 cases of COVID-19 in the county, and this announcement came shortly after an announcement of the first death in the county due to the virus.

County officials said the ban will last for three weeks. The Sharks are on the road through March 17th, and then are scheduled to play home games on March 19th, March 21st, and March 29th. The Sharks released a statement acknowledging the order, and said they are reviewing each scheduled event and determining appropriate next steps.

Thus far, no major North American professional sports team has played a game in front of no fans due to the coronavirus. On Monday, the NBA, the NHL, and MLB released a joint statement in which they announced plans to end pre- and post-game locker room access to media while this remains a concern.

Although tens of thousands of fans in attendance seems like a bigger concern, the leagues have not joined international leagues in removing fans or otherwise suspending play. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola both have come out against the idea of playing without fans. Viola sounded more inclined to support a suspension of the season if need be.