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March Madness tournament to be held without fans because of coronavirus

Tampa's Amalie Arena hosts the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.

TAMPA, Fla. — The March Madness basketball tournament will go on but without its loudest element -- fans in the stands -- because of the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

This includes the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament on March 19 and 21 at Amalie Arena. 

"We understand the NCAA’s decision and will be working with our partners at the NCAA on next steps moving forward, including the process for ticket refunds. We will share all pertinent information when we have it," Amalie Arena said in a statement. 

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced Wednesday, after consulting with public health officials and the group's own COVID-19 advisory panel, upcoming championship events will be held "with only essential staff and limited family attendance."

Both the Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments are affected.

The full statement is below: 

"The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel. Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance.

"While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States. This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed."

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The Associated Press reports no changes are expected to the way CBS and Turner Broadcasting System networks televise the games.

The NCAA notes adjustments will be made "as needed" as the COVID-19 threat evolves each day.

The city of Tampa acknowledged the NCAA's decision: 

The World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic Wednesday, saying worldwide there were more than 118,000 cases in 144 countries and 4,291 deaths.

Even before the WHO's announcement, cities and sports teams across the companies have been making their own event decisions: Chicago is canceling its St. Patrick's Day Parade; CNN's Democratic Debate will have no live audience; Washington state will ban large gatherings in the Seattle area hardest hit by COVID-19 and the NBA's Golden State Warriors will play in an empty arena.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the 2020 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be held on schedule but with additional handwashing and sanitizing stations at the event.

RELATED: How coronavirus concerns are impacting Tampa Bay area events

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