Imagine a Zoom call with over 50,000 of your friends, and none of them muted. This year, Kenan Memorial Stadium will be a lot louder.
In early July, a UNC spokesperson confirmed to Inside Carolina that the stadium would be expected to open at full capacity for the 2021 football season after Gov. Roy Cooper lifted restrictions on outdoor gatherings and social distancing in May.
After an entirely sold out 2019 season, the COVID-19 pandemic limited the 2020 season’s crowd to just families and friends of the players at the beginning of the season, but by October, the stadium was able to open at seven percent capacity.
With fans and students eager to return, the Tar Heels are expecting high demand for 2021 tickets.
“I expect to attend as many games as I can,” sophomore Gabe Caple said.
But with the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 looming, full capacity may be put in jeopardy.
Orange County reinstated its mask mandate for indoor public places on Aug. 11 in hopes of slowing the spread of the delta variant.
Under Orange County’s mask mandate, students would not be required to wear masks in the stadium because it is an outdoor venue.
“If I go to one of these games, I probably would not wear a mask if I’m not required to," junior Maytee Akkaramongkolrojn said. "Obviously if I’m required to, I will. I don’t see any point in complaining about it, it’s just something you put on your face."
Students like Caple are not planning to wear a mask.
“I will personally not be wearing a mask, but a small percentage (of students) probably will just for their safety,” Caple said.
The outdoor atmosphere seems to be reassuring to students. Junior Hailey Wrona noted that the stadium allows for more opportunities to practice social distancing.
But she said if the number of positive cases begins to rise, it could affect her decision to attend games.
“I definitely think (the delta variant) could put full capacity in jeopardy just because we’re not really gonna know until we’re back on campus what things look like for UNC,” Wrona said.
Akkaramongkolrojn, like Wrona, said it’s hard to know where to draw the line before seeing COVID-19 positivity rates on campus. While there is hope that full capacity stadiums can remain, the increasing numbers across the country are still sparking some fear.
“I think that the delta variant will definitely cause the school to freak out a little bit, and it’s definitely very justified," Akkaramongkolrojn said. "But I think we should see how many cases actually pop up at UNC before making a big decision."
The University will keep many of the safety guidelines from last season in place, including enhanced disinfection and sanitation, as well as limited contact transactions.
Game day traditions like the Bell Tower Walk and post-game celebrations are also expected to return this season.
“I want to try to make the most of the rest of my college experience, but obviously I want to make sure that everyone is safe and make sure that I am doing what I can to protect those around me,” Wrona said. “So making sure everyone I live with would feel comfortable with it, and just making sure that I am doing the right thing.”
When the UNC football team takes the field next month, it will be greeted by the cheers of more fans than all of last season, and all of whom will feel as though they've run through a tunnel into the sunlight, too.