Griffins fans undeterred by coronavirus worries


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Despite a warning Wednesday from the governor discouraging large gatherings to eliminate chances for coronavirus to spread, fans showing up for the Grand Rapids Griffins home hockey game seemed unfazed.

“We’re going to have to make some tough choices in the coming days and weeks,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a 5 p.m. press conference on how the state was handling confirmation of two cases of COVID-19 in the Detroit area. “The Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging everyone to avoid large gatherings of 100 people or more.”

The puck dropped at the Van Andel Arena two hours later.

“I don’t think it’s a big (deal),” Karla Clouse told News 8 as she showed up for the game at Van Andel Arena with a group of coworkers. “I think it’s way blown out of proportion.”

Others had the same sentiment.

“More people die of the flu then have died of the coronavirus,” Jeff Williams said. “I’m not that worried about it.”

Tim Gortsema, president of the Griffins, said it’s not something the team is taking lightly. As the doors opened for Wednesday’s game, he had not yet heard the guidance from the stateabout large gatherings.

“Every hour it feels like there’s a new piece of information,” Gortsema said. “Safety of our players, safety of our hockey staff, our front office staff and most importantly our fans is paramount to any inconvenience we would have.”

Gortsema said he had not ruled out the possibility that the Griffins might play in an empty arena, as other sports organizations have decided to do. But he said the move would be a costly decision and would come as a last resort.

“We’re never going to jeopardize and try to chase revenue at the expense of health and safety,” Gortsema said.

The reaction from the fans didn’t come from a lack of awareness. They certainly had heard about the coronavirus and the impact it is having around the world. But those showing up for the game simply weren’t convinced the virus posed a serious threat.

>>Inside Tracking coronavirus

Leadership at the Van Andel Arena had no plans to make changes to the upcoming schedule as of Wednesday afternoon.

“At this time, all events will be taking place as scheduled,” an arena spokesperson told News 8 in a written statement. “We are closely monitoring the latest developments regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) globally and any potential impact it may have on our day-to-day operations here in Grand Rapids. The health and safety of our guests and employees is our top priority. Through public health organizations such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), we are staying abreast of the latest updates and developments as they occur. Any actions we take will be consistent with guidelines from these agencies and local health department officials.”

As of Wednesday, there had been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in West Michigan, though health officials said they expected the virus would impact the area at some point.

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