COVID & the return of college football

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SALT LAKE CITY, UT. (ABC4) – Thursday’s Utes Football game is causing ‘super spreader’ concerns as more than 51,000 fans pack into Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first game of the season.  The game against Weber State is the first of six home games this season and local healthcare workers say they’re worried about what this could do to our already overwhelmed hospitals.  

Unlike the Jonas Brothers concert at the Usana Amphitheater on Friday, Utes fans aren’t required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to get in. Masks are also not required in the stands since the University of Utah is unable to mandate them under state law.  

With many healthcare workers at their breaking point, the thought of over 51,000 people packed into one place isn’t helping the situation.

Megan Fretwell is a student at the University of Utah and is also a nursing assistant at the University’s hospital. Fretwell said she is most concerned about the burnout of her coworkers. 

If Thursday’s game turned into a super spreader event Fretwell said the hospital would be overwhelmed and that conditions would “turn ugly.”

When Fretwell heard the newly expanded stadium went back to full capacity she questioned how seriously the school is taking the pandemic. However, a spokesperson for the University of Utah said state law prohibits the school from making masks a requirement.   

Some ABC4 viewers asked why students who attend in person classes at the University of Utah are required to get vaccinated for COVID-19 but not fans who go watch football games. 

“I think one of the differences is students in a classroom don’t have a choice they have to be there. Folks going to a football game…that’s an elective choice, a social choice to go to our campus,” spokesperson Chris Nelson said.

Nelson said he trusts fans to use common sense pointing to an event at the stadium back in July.

“We had a successful Garth Brooks concert over this past summer and that was a good 50,00 people in the stadium,” Nelson said.  

Nelson encourages those who don’t feel well or have underlying conditions to watch the game from home.

“We’re really emphasizing this idea that if you’re coming to campus, we want you to do so safely and want to make sure you’ve taken the right precautions,” Nelson said.

ABC4 asked Nelson if the university will change its guidance if this game turns into a super spreader event. He said nothing is off the table during a pandemic.

“We rarely will make decisions unilaterally. We will work with the Governor’s office, work with the state department of health, county health officials, legislative leaders… the decision making is a matrix on these decisions,” Nelson said.  

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