Whether public gatherings big and small can return this year will largely depend on whether officials can track COVID-19 cases — and one firm says it can provide the analysis to do so.
A pair of Buffalo Bills playoff games, which included a limited number of fans in attendance at the open-air stadium last month, is being seen as a model for how these events can go forward.
"Here was a perfect use case in how we really thought this data could be leveraged for the public good," said Ian Allen, the co-founder of Camber Systems, a data firm.
Allen's firm last week found heartening news for holding public gatherings: the two games did not lead to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Erie County. He says his company can provide one more tool to help policy makers reopen.
Still, there are caveats. The games were held outside and with each fan tested for COVID-19, with a negative COVID-19 test a requirement for being able to attend.
"Reopening is going to be a process, as we all know," Allen said. "It's going to be a daily, actively managed process. Schools, sports, entertainment, restaurants. It's not an on-off switch. There's a daily that we have modulated over the next many, many months."
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to reopen performing arts and sports venues in the coming months. There are limitations, however. Camber Systems co-founder Navin Vembar says safety analysis requires a lot of data.
"In aggregate does the opening of restaurants start effectiving how cases spread -- not does a restaurant have a particular hot spot," he said.
But the use of data could provide a boost to communities like Saratoga Springs, which has long relied on the tourist trade and gathering spaces like the race track, which closed last year. Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus says it has been a struggle for businesses.
"The reality is if we want to propel our economy forward and build back better, we're going to need SPAC, LiveNation, the track, Skidmore, the City Center -- everybody, all of our civic institutions to be back and operating," he said.
The next test comes when the NBA holds games with a limited number of fans in Brooklyn and Manhattan later this month.