AUSTIN (KXAN) — The University of Texas is opening its 2020 Longhorns football season on Saturday — the university’s first season to start during the COVID-19 pandemic.
UT has implemented new safety and cleanliness protocols — but will it be enough to prevent spread of the virus?
The university is expecting to host about 18,000 people inside the Darrell K Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium for the game against the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), which will be capped at 25% capacity, UT says.
Inside the stadium, tickets will be mobile-only and concessions will be cashless.
UT students who purchased the Big Ticket package, which provides access to all UT football, volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball games and Texas Relays, had to take a complimentary but mandatory COVID-19 test on Friday.
The Longhorn Band will be absent from the season opener, as the school says there’s not enough known about transmission among instrumentalists performing close near each other outdoors. Texas Cheer and Pom, Hook ‘Em, Bevo and Smokey the Cannon will attend, however.
Longhorns players and staff will be tested for COVID-19 three times a week leading up to every game, UT says. The last test will be the Friday before a game.
Benches and team areas will be spread out and players will be required to wear masks when not playing.
COVID-19 at University of Texas Austin
As of Sept. 9, there have been a total of 814 COVID-19 cases at UT Austin, according to the school’s dashboard.
These cases include 633 students and 181 faculty/staff.
Most famously, a Spring Break trip to Cabo San Lucas in March led to the positive tests of 49 students. The trip made headlines nationwide, including features in the Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN.
At the end of August, two students living in on-campus housing tested positive and UT identified and notified two people through contact tracing.
COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County
There have been 27,525 total cases of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County, according to the City of Austin’s COVID-19 dashboard on Saturday, August 12. There have been an estimated 26,508 recoveries and 402 deaths.
There are 97 people hospitalized in the Austin-metro area — 34 in the ICU and 23 on ventilators, according to the City of Austin.
Back in August, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said UT’s plan was still too ambitious.
Dr. Escott recommended that football games be played with two teams and zero spectators, saying UT football should “start small.”
In July, Dr. Escott reacted to UT’s then-plan to open the stadium at 50%.
“I think it’s not really living in the realm of reality for what we’re likely to experience this fall,” Dr. Escott said at that time in reference to the games.
Statewide, several other universities are beginning their football seasons too.
The Texas State University Bobcats will play their first game of the season against the UTSA Roadrunners.
The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks began their season on Sept. 5.
The Baylor University Bears have not yet begun their season, but are set to play Kansas State University on Sept. 26.
“I’ll say again what I said a month or two ago,” Dr. Escott warned in July. “Large gatherings are the first thing that closed down and should be the last thing to open up again.”