Texas A&M stadium staff workers tried to enforce a strict policy at the Oct. 10 home football game against Florida: Wear a mask or go home.
The rule wasn’t easy to impose on the limited-capacity crowd of 24,709. Even though A&M cadets got the message and covered their faces, many other sections of the stadium did not as they shouted and cheered during the Aggies’ 41-38 upset win against the Gators.
“Officially, 41 were escorted out of the stadium for refusing to adhere to face covering policy,” A&M spokesman Alan Cannon told USA TODAY.
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This is all part of college football’s problem with combating the COVID-19 pandemic, according to public health experts. There are different rules and levels of enforcement for different leagues and schools, sometimes even within a single stadium at a single game.
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Such a scattershot strategy has increased the risk for a virus outbreak from a sports event, they said. Even if it hasn’t happened that we know of in the USA, they say it could be just a matter of time, especially after virus flare-ups at several colleges and a superspreader soccer event in February that hammered Italy.
“It’s important to note not every sporting event would turn into a superspreader,” said Zachary Binney, epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University.
It’s a little like Russian roulette. It’s possible to attend a large gathering with lax mask enforcement and not have a noticeable outbreak afterward. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen the next time you try it.
“No, it’s evidence you rolled the dice and got lucky,” Binney said. “If you keep doing even moderately risky things again and again and again, you’re going to get burned. It’s like driving down the highway without a seat belt. Yeah, any single time you’ll likely get away with it, but it’s not a good life policy.”
Some schools and leagues have taken note. Some still miss the point even after COVID-19 has claimed more than 216,000 lives in the USA.
Scientists are scrambling to learn about the unknown risks and longer-term effects of the virus, including among young people who might not be physically affected by it immediately.
In August, Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mina predicted that allowing fans at stadiums “would be a disaster.”
Since then, the range of risk-taking in college stadiums varies from cautious to cavalier even as COVID-19 cases surged in 41 states and flu season soon is likely to add to the misery.
Some avoid the risk
Some Power Five teams and leagues aren’t risking it and are subject to varying local public health restrictions. The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences said they will