PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — As COVID-19 keeps spreading in South Dakota and more people get vaccinated against a disease that’s helped kill more than 1,900 in a year, the state government panel that regulates mixed martial arts events and other fighting contests plans to start allowing paid spectators again.

The South Dakota Athletic Commission wrestled for more than an hour Monday over what the requirements should be for those in the ring, as well as the promoters, the communities that host them, and the audiences that pay to be on hand.

The commissioners agreed to recommend spectators wear face coverings and their executive secretary, Jennifer Stalley, will recommend maximum audience size based on square footage of each venue.

The panel also accepted Stalley’s suggestion that restrictions could be tightened at any time, in case South Dakota suddenly becomes a hot spot and hospitals run short of beds.

“I think we reserve the right to tell these promoters this is an ever-changing event,” Stalley said. She added, “Promoters have to ride the ride with us, if you will.” Chairman Mike Kilmer of Spearfish agreed: “That makes sense to me.”

The panel also approved four MMA-type events with spectators for later this year, starting with one May 22 in Sioux Falls, promoted by Legacy Fighting Alliance, and possibly several boxing dates.

One of the restrictions that competitors, cornermen and referees will face until further notice are they must have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event; or prove a complete COVID-19 vaccination at least two weeks prior to the event; or prove COVID-19 antibodies three months before the event; or document a COVID-19 infection and recovery within 90 days of the event.

The commission agreed the barrier between the audience and the ring should be moved back from the current 15 feet whenever possible to a commission-approved distance that could vary venue to venue. Competitors and their cornermen would be confined to the event’s locker room after arriving at the venue prior to the match.

Stalley originally suggested letting the community and the venue work with the promoter to determine how many spectators to allow and whether they would need to wear masks. Vice-chair Lee Lohff of Sioux Falls wasn’t comfortable with that.

Stalley said the commission could suggest venues require or encourage masks but there was no legal authority to enforce it. She said the commissioners who attend already were focused on the competitors. “We’d have a hard time looking around to see who has a mask on,” she said.

Stalley next suggested the commission could recommend the maximum spectators using venue size.  The venue has to report tickets sold, so it could be enforced, she said. “Sounds difficult to oversee, to me. Maybe not,” chair Kilmer said. While the commission can’t mandate masks, Stalley noted, “We can certainly encourage it.”

“That would help assuage some of my misgiving, yes,” Lohff said. “I can move forward with the encourages to both wear masks and social distance whenever possible.”