Tens of thousands of fans are expected to be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday, when the Dallas Cowboys, as they have nearly every year since 1966, play at home on Thanksgiving, this time against the Washington Football Team.
To control the spread of the coronavirus, state rules limit attendance at the stadium to half its capacity of more than 100,000, and no game has approached that limit. Still, attendance has grown every game, hitting a high of 31,700 on Nov. 8, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were in town. Jerry Jones, the team’s owner, plans to keep selling tickets even as the number of infections surges in Tarrant County, where the Cowboys play home games.
“I see a continued aggressive approach to having fans out there,” Mr. Jones said last week on Dallas sports talk radio. “And that’s not being insensitive to the fact that we got our Covid and outbreak. Some people will say maybe it is, but not when you’re doing it as safe as we are and not when we’re having the results we’re having.”
Local and state authorities have ultimate authority over whether fans can attend games, and the rules in Texas are more permissive than in states like California and New Jersey, where teams have played without spectators this season.
But Mr. Jones’s approach runs counter not just to what other N.F.L. teams have done in recent weeks, but to what medical experts say is prudent public health policy. The number of cases in the county has jumped more than fivefold since the start of the regular season in early September, when there was an average of 1,500 confirmed infections a day.
On Wednesday, the N.F.L. has moved the Thanksgiving night showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to Sunday afternoon after nearly a dozen players and staff members on the Ravens tested positive for the virus.