With no requirements for vaccinations or masking enforced at Kenan Memorial Stadium this season, UNC football fans must weigh their passion for the team with public health risks.
UNC announced its fall athletics safety measures for fans last week. Masks and vaccinations are “strongly encouraged,” but the University stops short of requiring either measure for outdoor stadiums like Kenan Stadium.
The University claims safety is a priority and these guidelines will keep everyone safe. Yet it would allow roughly 51,000 people to fill every seat in Kenan Stadium.
CDC guidance states that individuals generally do not need to wear a mask outdoors. But in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, it advises people to consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings. As of Monday, the CDC classified the level of COVID-19 community transmission as "high."
According to the CDC's considerations for events and gatherings, risk factors for exposure to COVID-19 include: extended contact within 6 feet with someone who has COVID-19, singing and shouting and a lack of consistent and correct mask-wearing.
A football stadium at full capacity unfortunately has all of these factors.
The lack of capacity restrictions or mandatory masking in such close quarters, even if outside, seems destined to cause harm to the campus and Chapel Hill communities. By last Thursday, daily COVID-19 cases at UNC had nearly quadrupled since the first day of classes.
Allowing thousands of unmasked individuals into a stadium undoes the work permanent residents have invested in keeping immunocompromised people and individuals who are unable to be vaccinated safe.
What is the good in requiring masks at local businesses and proof of vaccination at some restaurants when UNC is hosting a super-spreader event in Chapel Hill’s backyard?
The University’s strategy of asking people nicely to do the right thing clearly isn’t working. We need a better approach.
Enacting policies to ensure COVID-19 won’t spread inside Kenan Stadium wouldn’t be an absurd notion, nor would it be unprecedented, even at a highly touted football program.
Just last week, Louisiana State University said it will require proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival to enter its football stadium. Tiger Stadium holds 102,000 people, making it the largest stadium with these restrictions. Oregon and Oregon State University have similar policies. If UNC were to follow the lead of LSU and the like, it would be the first ACC school with a proof-of-vaccination requirement for fans.
UNC has the opportunity to pave the way for the rest of the conference, but we aren’t hedging our bets on them doing so. They know requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test will lead to a small number of outraged individuals who will give up their season tickets.
And that’s the bottom line.
UNC’s football program generated $49.6 million in revenue in the 2019-2020 season, according to the University's NCAA financial report. Apparently, the University doesn’t want to see that number go down, even at the cost of preventing breakthrough cases and a surge in COVID-19 positivity rate in Chapel Hill.
Last year, UNC athletics estimated it would lose $30 million amid the pandemic season from decreased ticket sales, reduced televisions revenues and other setbacks. Those losses give the University an extra incentive to squeeze every penny from Tar Heel fans. As national hype surrounding head coach Mack Brown, quarterback Sam Howell and the Tar Heels grows by the day, fans will undoubtedly pay top dollar to see the team.
So it’s really no wonder the school is willing to pack the masses into the stadium. More tickets means more revenue.
UNC and its athletics department have until the first home game on Sept. 11 to do the right thing. We need a proof-of-vaccination or negative test requirement to attend games, or at the very least, a mask mandate inside a full-capacity stadium.
The choice is clear: Put the health of our community over a few lost ticket sales.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.