Florida college football stadiums are packed, but so far no apparent pandemic outbreak


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College football stadiums across Florida with tens of thousands of unmasked, screaming college students and boosters crammed tightly so far have not resulted in any recognizable community outbreaks amid the pandemic, infection figures show on the state’s largest campuses.

The season started amid fears that the big games could turn into super-propagator events. Now, nearly half of the season – which began with the highly infectious Delta variant still spreading across the United States – the days and weeks after home games have shown no significant increases on campus. academics.

Over the back-to-back weekends last month for Florida’s No.20 University, for example, around 90,000 people gathered for several hours in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for each game, where there was no vaccination, mask or social distancing requirement. The number of infections on campus did not increase dramatically in the days or weeks that followed, which would cover the typical incubation window for COVID-19.

In Florida, with more than 53,000 students enrolled, the school has diagnosed an average of 16 positive cases each day since the start of the semester. The student sections have been jam-packed in the Gators’ home games so far, including its opener against Florida Atlantic and last month’s games hosting the No. 1 from Alabama and then Tennessee. Homecoming is this weekend, another test of the public health risk in the stadium, known as the Swamp.

Have crowded college football stadiums proven to be safer than expected?

Fans watch the University of South Florida take on the University of Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on September 11, 2021 (Elisabell Velazquez / Fresh Take Florida)

In the interviews, health experts suggest possible explanations: number of vaccinations higher than expected; fans who have already contracted the virus; a fortuitous national drop in Delta cases since mid-September; lack of robust contact tracing that could skew the numbers; and inconsistent campus testing that could suppress the numbers, even among students who feel sick after games.

Until the start of the fall semester, for example, the University of Florida required students on campus to wear masks inside classrooms and be tested weekly – an explanation for its record number of over 13,000 positive cases since March 2020. Students are now encouraged but not required to wear masks in classrooms and be tested if they suspect they have been in contact with an infected person. No one imposes these expectations.

“If I didn’t feel good or were exposed, I wouldn’t put myself in this situation, and I hope to believe that everyone is doing the same for the future,” said Taylor Rouchon, 21, de Pensacola, a junior studying sports management. “I just don’t want to miss games. You know, we can’t live in fear for the rest of our lives.

In the week following the Florida opener, the school said it had tested more than 3,500 students, faculty and staff, with 123 positive cases during that time. Within two weeks of the sold-out Alabama game, the school noted it tested 5,425 students, faculty and staff, with only 99 positive cases.

“We’re at the end of our Delta peak in cases, so I think there’s a factor there,” said Dr. Cindy Prins, associate professor of epidemiology at Florida. “We have unfortunately had a lot of people who have been infected, which is in addition to those who are immune at this time.”

The number of infections was also low – and declining – at other Florida football schools. The Seminoles lost a highlight in their home opener against Notre Dame, with more than 68,000 in the crowded stadium. Florida State noted it tested 2,745 students, faculty and staff and recorded only 88 positive cases on campus over the next two weeks. Now in a week off, the school has its next home game on October 23, its homecoming weekend.

At the University of South Florida in Tampa, the Bulls lost to the Gators in their home opener on September 11 at Raymond James Stadium, in front of nearly 65,000 fans. The school with more than 50,000 students noted it only registered 103 positive cases at its main campus over the next two weeks.

“I think because the student body is highly vaccinated, and in Tampa as well, I would be very surprised if there was a strong epidemic linked to the football game,” said Dr Edwin Michael, professor of epidemiology at the ‘school. He said the university’s contact tracing efforts have waned, making it more difficult to link cases to super-spreading events.

Fans watch the University of South Florida take on the University of Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on September 11, 2021 (Elisabell Velazquez / Fresh Take Florida)

Cases reported by the University of Miami have fallen on campus every week from the Hurricanes’ Sept. 11 home opener against Appalachian State, with about 45,000 participating in each of the four back-to-back home games until the end of last month. Within two weeks of his first win over the Mountaineers, Miami noted it tested 22,190 students and faculty and recorded only 41 cases on campus.

Miami, a private university, requires unvaccinated students to be tested twice a week, which explains its high number of students tested.

Within two weeks of defeating Boise State in their home opener on September 2, the University of Central Florida noted he recorded 289 cases on campus. Storms limited participation in this game, but more than 38,000 people attended the September 11 home game in Orlando against Bethune Cookman.

In a statement, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary – who was captain of his varsity baseball team at Yale – compared Florida’s relatively open rules for events such as college football games to restrictions in place in universities elsewhere in the United States.

“In some parts of the country, the university experience will never return to normal,” spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said. She also noted that “fully vaccinated students and staff are always positive,” although so-called breakthrough cases have been relatively rare and hospitalization rates among vaccinated patients are very low.

The crowded stadiums had worried campus professors who were worried about infections plaguing classrooms after football weekends. In Florida, after the busy season opened, the union representing faculty urged the administration to consider moving classes online, requiring masks and vaccinations and improving testing and student tracking. , professors and infected staff.

“The decision has been made that we will take the risk of wrapping up the stadium and saying that whoever gets sick is tolerable or if they die it’s tolerable because the game matters more,” said Steven Kirn, co-chair of the pandemic working group. for the United Faculty of Florida.

After Florida beat Tennessee, Sean Sorrick, 20, of Naples, a junior psychology student, said he felt ill afterwards. The school said nearly 89,000 people attended the game. He thinks he caught a cold that was circulating on campus.

“I have the common cold that everyone has around,” he said. “It was fun when I was there, but now I’m paying the price.”

Sorrick, who said a few days later that he was feeling better, said he had not been tested, despite college rules saying he should. “Unless what I have got worse, I’m not going to get tested. I think that’s what a lot of people are going through. Unless they’re really, really sick, I don’t think people are going to get tested. “

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This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service from the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. The rapporteur can be contacted at [email protected]

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