Austin Public Health officials said UT hosting 25,000 fans at the first football game this upcoming Saturday could have harmful repercussions and increase the spread of the coronavirus during a press conference Wednesday morning.
Mark Escott, APH interim medical director and health authority, addressed UT officials in a press conference last week, saying 25% capacity for football games was too high in light of the University’s upsurge in coronavirus cases.
“Our gathering limit is 10 (in Austin), and having 25,000 people in one place is a concern,” Escott said. “I know UT is working hard to engineer solutions to keep people separated, but ultimately, you’re going to have 25,000 people in one spot. We’re going to have to wait a couple weeks to see what kind of transmission happened.”
Escott said social gatherings are the cause of COVID-19 clusters in Austin, not classrooms. Escott also said UT sororities and fraternities should stop hosting and attending large gatherings because they have a responsibility to their community. In an Aug. 28 message to the University community, UT Interim President Jay Hartzell said the University has asked the city to enforce public gathering orders limiting gatherings to 10 people or less.
APH Director Stephanie Harden said if sororities and fraternities ignore written warnings from APH to end large gatherings, the Austin and UT Police departments and the Austin Fire Marshall will enforce city orders.
“We have sent out letters to fraternities and sororities to remind them of their legal obligations under the health authority rules,” Escott said. “It’s important for our young people to realize that those activities, those gatherings, those parties (are) reckless. Their life may not be in danger if they get COVID-19, but other people’s lives will be in danger if they spread it.”
Escott said student leaders at UT and other university campuses need to hold their peers accountable for attending large gatherings.
“We value our college students, but we can’t tolerate activity that is going to place the rest of us in danger,” Escott said. “We’re asking again that students take the lead and that student leaders at UT and other college campuses make a statement against that kind of activity which may put us in danger.”
Escott suggested safe alternatives for people who want to watch UT’s football game Saturday and reminded Austinites that the pandemic is not over.
“Let’s avoid gatherings,” Escott said. “Let’s watch football at home this year, and keep each other safe.”