In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have begun to resume pre-pandemic activities — including pre-pandemic football games.
Despite COVID-19 continuing to spread, university sports programs around the country don't seem to care. ASU has hosted its first three home football games and had its third-highest student section attendance in school history just one week into the season.
Restrictions need to be put in place and mandated in order to ensure the safety of all game attendees. Students should be required to show records of vaccinations and wear masks to games. Social distancing should also be implemented by limiting group sizes and having parties sit farther away from each other.
Currently, ASU "strongly recommends" face coverings at games, but that's not enough.
ASU's wouldn't be the first major sports program to require masks at games should they choose to establish such a mandate. Duke University is requiring face coverings for all people, vaccinated or unvaccinated, at all its athletics venues, including outdoor venues.
Personally, I was excited to see stadiums slowly open back up, but still require masks and social distancing. At ASU baseball games last spring, I felt comfortable wearing a mask. Everyone had to sit six feet apart from all other groups of fans coming to the game together, and it felt both fun and safe.
Soon after, sporting events across Arizona began to fully forgo these precautions.
While assistant athletic director of media relations Doug Tammaro said Sun Devil Stadium isn't expected to reach full capacity until later in the season, the reopening with low levels of restriction happened too soon.
According to Sun Devil Athletics' fall 2021 fan safety protocols, precautions against COVID-19 at games include strongly recommending face coverings, following CDC guidelines and disinfecting high-touch surfaces. Given that only about 48% of Arizona's population is fully vaccinated, higher restrictions would seem to be in the best interest of students' and fans' health.
It's alarming ASU does not require proof of vaccination in order to enter Sun Devil Stadium, which it could legally do after a judge ruled the Arizona Legislature violated the Constitution by including the ban on vaccine mandates for schools in the state budget.
Another element making ASU's situation particularly concerning is the fact that relatively few people in the ASU community are getting tested for COVID-19.
In the week leading up to Oct. 4, 2021, ASU conducted 1,706 random COVID-19 tests among students, staff and faculty. A year earlier, in the week leading up to Oct. 5, 2020, ASU conducted 3,224 random tests — nearly twice as many random tests as are being collected now.
While attending sports venues is amazing, ASU should take precautions and tend to the well-being of all of its students.
"I think that ASU should have a policy around a vaccine mandate for the University and there should be a vaccine requirement to enter the stadium or a negative test," said Dr. Samedyar Durrani, a general surgeon in the Phoenix area.
Unvaccinated students going to the games are at greater risk of catching the virus and spreading it.
In a state continuing to struggle with high case numbers, it would make sense to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, especially for those attending ASU's football games. Instead, students walk through the entrances without a mask and pack into a crowded student section without showing any proof of vaccination.
"Transmission between vaccinated people, studies are showing it really doesn't happen that much, so if you're vaccinated in large gatherings at ASU, at the football game you're generally in a much better position than an unvaccinated person," Durrani said.
I love college football, but it's not safe to shove thousands of students into a condensed area without wearing masks.
I’ve missed going to games without COVID-19 protocols, but our health and the health of others should not be put on the back burner for three or four hours of entertainment.
The health and safety of the ASU community are of the utmost importance. We only get one life, yet sports live on forever. Choose wisely what you prioritize by putting your health and safety first.
Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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