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Fans return to TD Garden for first time in over a year

The Boston Bruins played the New York Islanders in front of a crowd of about 2,200 fans Thursday at TD Garden, marking a much-anticipated step toward normalcy.

The venue, which is owned and operated by Delaware North, has been hosting Bruins and Boston Celtics games for several months, but Thursday was the first time fans were allowed to be in the stands to watch a game since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March.

3-8655856Having fans in the stands was a welcome sight for everyone at TD Garden.

“We’re thrilled to have them back. We’re excited,” said Amy Latimer, president of TD Garden, in an interview with reporters on Wednesday. “I know the players are excited, I know the fans can’t wait to come back and, you guys, this neighborhood, right? We really need to get some energy back on Causeway Street for the restaurants, for the businesses here.”

TD Garden can usually host nearly 18,000 fans for Bruins games, but it’s limited to 12% capacity for now to follow state COVID-19 regulations for indoor sports venues. More COVID safety measures and changes have been implemented by TD Garden through its Play It Safe program, part of Delaware North’s Commitment to Care initiative.

Among the changes, fans will now use their phones for parking, tickets and concessions. Workers will also be sanitizing the Garden before and after events.

11-4613612Fans will be seated in socially distanced “pods” of two or four people, in specifically assigned areas called “neighborhoods” where they will be able to get anything they need. Unless fans are eating or drinking, masks must be worn, which Latimer believes won’t be an issue.

“We expect that everybody’s going to play by the rules,” she said. “We are going to hold people accountable.”

If COVID conditions in Boston continue to trend in a positive direction, the state could increase the capacity in the coming weeks, which Latimer also says won’t be an issue for the TD Garden team.

“Oh yeah, we can’t wait,” Latimer told The Boston Globe. “Are you kidding? We do 18,000-19,000 people in our sleep. This is what we’ve done for 25 years. We are very ready. We have our protocols lined up based on percentage increases. When they’re ready to let us know it’s safe, we’re ready to increase to meet that need.”