SALEM (CBS) – Governor Charlie Baker announced Thursday that fans will be allowed at Massachusetts stadiums and arenas beginning March 22.

Starting March 1, Massachusetts will move back into Phase 3, Step 2 of its reopening plan, then on March 22 to Phase 4, Step 1. That is when stadiums will be allowed to have crowds with a capacity restriction of 12%.

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“These large venues employ a lot of people and many of them have been out of work for a very long time,” Baker said. “We’ve been watching how these venues perform in other states, and believe with the right safety measures in place they can operate responsibly and safely here in the Commonwealth as well.”

The Bruins would be the first team eligible to host fans with a home game scheduled against the New York Islanders on March 23. The Celtics’ first home game with fans could be March 29, while Red Sox opening day is scheduled for April 1.

Teams must submit a plan to the state showing what safety precautions will be in place when they open.

“It is an important step toward a return to normalcy for fans of the New England Revolution and New England Patriots and provides a sense of optimism for a much brighter future ahead,” a Gillette Stadium spokesman said in a statement.

TD Garden is implementing a “Play It Safe” initiative aimed at reducing the spread of infectious disease such as COVID.

“We have been working diligently with public health officials and experts for nearly a year to create the highest standards of guidelines and protocols to keep everyone as safe as possible at TD Garden,” said TD Garden president Amy Latimer. “Using these new Play It Safe protocols, following updated guidelines from the CDC, and implementing the GBAC Star arena cleaning standards, we take the reopening of TD Garden very seriously and are committed to the health and safety of our fans while providing a great guest experience.”

Baker was asked if Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium will continue to serve as mass vaccination sites once fans are allowed back in the building for games.

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“I don’t have a hard answer for you on that one today. Obviously, they are important players in this vaccination effort. We’re going to try to figure that one out”,” Baker said.

In their statement about the changes, the Red Sox said they are “fully committed” to continuing as a vaccination site.

“The club is working closely with the state and vaccination site partners at CIC Health to develop revised operating plans as necessary for the month of April and beyond that are well-coordinated with the Red Sox game schedule,” the team said.

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo called it an exciting development for players and fans alike.

“Obviously, it’s not going to be the sold out, packed stadiums like we’re used to. But just the fact they’re kind of open it up, and get a little of that normal coming back in there seeing some fans, seeing some fresh faces, and some genuine reactions will definitely be exciting. And it will also be kind of weird at first too.”

“That means that our families can actually be part of it too,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “And that means a lot.”

Bruins defenseman said players are looking forward to having fans back in the building.

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“It’s been a while,” Clifton said. “We’re obviously really excited to get back to TD Garden and play in front of the Bruins fans. It’s obviously a big part of the NHL and the atmosphere. Hopefully we get back there soon.”

CBSBoston.com Staff