San Jose Sharks to play on despite county's coronavirus concerns

The San Jose Sharks are playing their home game against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night despite a recommendation from Santa Clara County to "cancel mass gatherings" as the coronavirus spreads in the region.

County officials said the number of known coronavirus cases in Santa Clara has risen to 20 people. As part of the county public health department's new guidance on slowing the outbreak, it recommended "postponing or canceling mass gatherings and large community events where large numbers of people are within arm's length of one another."

The Sharks released a statement saying they are aware of the county's recommendation and that their game against the Wild will go on as scheduled. But the team said it will be "evaluating further upcoming events."

San Jose has back-to-back home games this weekend against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. The Sharks don't play at home again until March 19.

"SAP Center undergoes a rigorous cleaning procedure after each and every event, with particular attention paid to high-traffic, high public-contact areas. Many areas will receive additional, enhanced measures throughout the course of events for the foreseeable future," the team said.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new strain that has surged around the globe. The coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory diseases. Flu is caused by a different virus. There is no vaccine for coronavirus, though researchers are working on one and hope to begin testing soon. Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease, are most at risk. The coronavirus spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes, though it also can be transferred from surfaces.

San Jose's Major League Soccer team, the Earthquakes, also issued a statement after the county's recommendation ahead of their home game against Minnesota United on Saturday night.

"The Earthquakes organization is aware of the recent COVID-19 updates from the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department. Public health and safety are our top priorities and we are coordinating with local agencies, the CDC, MLS officials and upcoming opponent Minnesota United FC to ensure the proper measures are taken to protect our community. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates regarding Saturday's match at Earthquakes Stadium."

Coronavirus has impacted hockey events in several countries. The International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled several world championship tournaments. The Swiss National League played the end of its regular season in empty arenas, and postponed its postseason until March 15 because of a government ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people. The Professional Women's Hockey Players Association postponed a tour of Japan due to concerns over outbreaks.

The NHL said it is studying contingency plans.

"We're aware of and focused on all possibilities," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, with the Stanley Cup playoffs one month away. "But at this point it would be premature to pick any one of the possibilities, especially because it may or may not become necessary in North America."

The Sharks sent recommendations to fans headed to the game against Minnesota, including hand-washing and sanitizing as well as encouraging fans who are feeling ill to stay home.