More than 68,000 fans returned to Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 4 for the first Hawkeye football game of the season. The University of Iowa strongly recommends, but does not require, masks or proof of vaccination for entry, leaving Johnson County Public Health officials and community members worried.
The University of Iowa Athletic Department will continue to rely on guidance from the state Board of Regents and the Iowa and Johnson County departments of public health; the Big Ten Conference; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the Hawkeye Athletics website.
Kinnick Stadium workers were not required to wear masks if they were fully vaccinated, concessions worker and UI freshman Jessica Anderson said.
Anderson said the little amount of mask usage was concerning, especially for people working in the food service areas of the stadium.
“With so many people in one place and having to lean in close to hear their orders through all of the sounds going around, it very well could have ended with a case of COVID,” Anderson said. “The stands were at full capacity and no masks required so there were tons of people in one place, handling food and drinks. It seems like the perfect circumstances for COVID-19 to surge.”
Anderson said the UI could have more restrictions in place to lessen the potential spread of COVID-19 at the games.
“I think limiting capacity to every other row could be a good start. I know that would reduce their money intake but with less seats available they could make ticket prices higher possibly,” said Anderson. “Just trying to keep people spread out so they don’t have to sit right next to strangers.”
Johnson County Public Health Director Danielle Pettit-Majewski said she was also concerned after seeing the stadium at full capacity this weekend.
“When you get 70,000 people into close quarters during a pandemic, even outdoors, there’s concern,” Pettit-Majewski said. “Considering we are already seeing surges and increases in our cases here, we are concerned.”
Pettit-Majewski said the game isn’t the only potential for COVID-19 transmission throughout Johnson County.
“People are out celebrating [after the game], going to bars, restaurants, so it wasn’t just 70,000 people in the stadium, but it was all over,” Pettit-Majewski said. “I’m an Iowa alum, so watching the football game was equal parts excitement and abject terror about what is to come from this.”
The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings in counties with substantial or high transmission. Johnson County is currently in high transmission.
The CDC also recommends “fully vaccinated people might choose to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings” especially if they live with someone who is immunocompromised. The organization says outdoor activities are safer for unvaccinated individuals where they can stay six feet away from others.
Pettit-Majewski said masks and increased social distance should be used at football games.
“I think it would be really wonderful and responsible if fans were wearing masks, maybe not having quite as many people in the stadium,” Pettit-Majewski said. “We don’t need to stop doing all of the things that we’ve enjoyed doing. If we want to continue to go on with life as much as we can normally, wear a mask, and get vaccinated if you haven’t already.”
Pettit-Majewski explained that she relates to the people wanting to live life normally without having to follow any restrictions or mask up, but she said the way to return to normal is through proven prevention strategies.
“We understand people are tired of COVID-19, we’re tired of it too, but the best way to get out of this pandemic is to follow the CDC guidance,” said Pettit-Majewski. “We’re still all in this together, so we just ask people to stick in there just a little bit longer.”