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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Officials with the Oklahoma City Thunder say the 2020-21 season will begin without an audience due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we continue planning for the start of the 2020-21 NBA season, our absolute top priority is the health and safety of our guests and our community. For months, we have worked in close collaboration with Chesapeake Energy Arena, the City of Oklahoma City, local health officials, and the NBA to put into place thorough health and safety measures to allow for reduced seating capacity. However, as we review ongoing and concerning trends in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Oklahoma, we want to exercise an abundance of caution to help control the spread of the virus in our community. Therefore, the Thunder has made the decision to begin the season without fans in the arena.
We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation over the coming weeks to determine when fans will be able to attend our games. 
We will take all necessary steps to create a safe environment for those who will be in attendance for games as the upcoming season begins, including players, coaches, staff, media and broadcasters. 
We urge everyone to take all the vital steps necessary to control the spread of the virus, especially wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining proper physical distance. As a community, we must all work together to get through this safely and move forward to welcome our fans into the arena to enjoy Thunder Basketball this season.”

The 2019-20 season ended abruptly in March after a Utah Jazz player tested positive in Oklahoma City before their game against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The NBA’s Board of Governors approved restarting the league season in June following the March shutdown. The season resumed in late July at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida.

When the season restarted, the NBA started letting fans attend the game virtually as a new way to engage with the teams.  

“Thunder basketball is wherever you are. Whether you’re sitting in your living room as a virtual fan, or you’re back in the arena watching games,” Thunder VP of Corporate Communications and Broadcasting Dan Mahoney said. “That’s what Thunder basketball is all about.”

Thunder officials have not yet said if this feature will continue in the 2020-21 season.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department issued this statement on the Thunder’s decision:

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department supports the decision by the Oklahoma City Thunder to not allow fans to attend upcoming games.
OCCHD knows it was a tough call to make, but we’re proud that the Thunder is putting the safety of its fans at such a high priority. OCCHD has been working directly with the Thunder for weeks leading up to today’s decision. While the department has no regulatory authority over events, we continue to work with organizers who are want to safely host events. The Oklahoma City Thunder is setting a great example of what it looks like to truly care for the community during the pandemic. 
We hope other organizations will express the same amount of care as they think about their upcoming events.”