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Students have mixed reactions to Dean Dome reopening for in-person attendance

A fan celebrates a basket during UNC's 78-70 victory over Florida State in the Smith Center, Feb. 27, 2021. This was the first game this season for which fans were in attendance.

During UNC basketball’s win over Florida State on Saturday, cheers sounded in the Dean E. Smith Center from live fans — for the first time in almost a year. 

The majority of the game’s roughly 3,200 attendees were students who were eager to get back in the arena. They were able to watch the Tar Heels in person again due to Gov. Roy Cooper easing COVID-19 restrictions, with large indoor venues able to allow fans up to 15 percent capacity. 

But other students were disappointed with the University’s decision to allow thousands to gather in an indoor arena. 

“Just hearing that there's going to be thousands of people in one area just gives off the idea that the pandemic is easing up,” senior Marco L. Chumbimuni said. “And even with mass vaccination distribution, that's just not the case.”

Fans in the arena are required to wear masks when not actively eating or drinking, along with physically distancing in pods of no more than two. According to the Department of Athletics, the enforcement policy for mask-wearing includes an ejection after three failures to comply.

Other precautions include: 

  • Touchless entry through digital ticketing
  • Disinfection of high-touch surfaces
  • Forty hand sanitizers throughout the arena
  • Complimentary protective equipment based on need or request, such as masks, gloves and face shields
  • Text and hotline for fans to report concerns

First-year Case Redmond, who attended the game this past weekend, said he felt safe in the arena despite the number of fans. 

“People weren't actively trying to break the rules,” Redmond said. “It felt like people were just happy that they could actually be there ... and so they followed all the guidelines, which is a good thing.”

Senior Anna Credle, who also attended the game against Florida State, said some students did choose to ignore guidelines and act disrespectfully. She said she had to repeatedly tell the group of people sitting behind her to wear their masks properly, but was eventually able to move away from them with the permission of an usher. 

Anirudh Kompella, a first-year student, said he thought the staff members were effective in enforcing safety protocols.

“There were very few people who would group up in more than two, but they did a good job of making sure that everyone's keeping their mask on,” Kompella said.

Despite Cooper’s order that allowed fans to support UNC basketball in person over the weekend, other sports teams — such as club ice hockey and rugby — will not have a season at all. 

The UNC ice hockey team tweeted its disappointment on Friday that the University had chosen to “err on the side of caution and safety” with its sport, but allowed fans into the Dean Dome. 

Bill Goa, director of Campus Recreation, said in a statement that the decision was made because Campus Recreation, which oversees club sports, is unable to ensure that athletes from other universities' club teams are undergoing regular testing. 

Fans will be permitted to attend the Tar Heels’ last basketball game of the season, scheduled for this Saturday against Duke. Redmond said he hopes UNC Police will be more prepared to prevent people from rushing Franklin Street in the event of a win. 

UNC Police is stationing officers near the Dean Dome and Franklin Street to support the Town of Chapel Hill, and the University is releasing communications through the week about celebrating safely. 

As for Chumbimuni, he will not be entering the ticket lottery — even though it is his last year at the University. 

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“I’m a senior, I really did want to see UNC-Duke,” Chumbimuni said. “But we need to come to a realization that our personal needs have to come last whenever there are people dying around us. I'd much rather see UNC-Duke when I'm an alumnus than to learn the game could become a superspreader.”