Jack Myer/ The Daily Texan
Editor’s note: This story first appeared as part of the September 3 Double Coverage flipbook.
The Steve Sarkisian era of Texas football kicks off Saturday at Darrell K Royal- Texas Memorial Stadium with the Longhorns’ season opener against the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. While Saturday marks Texas football’s new beginning, the threat of COVID-19 still looms over the 2021 season.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott barred any state-funded institutions from implementing vaccine mandates, but UT has implemented procedures to encourage students and faculty to get vaccinated.
The University recently launched a vaccine incentive program that includes a weekly prize drawing for students and faculty who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Winners can receive cash prizes or tickets to a home football game with University of Texas President Jay Hartzell.
In a statement released Aug. 18, Hartzell emphasized the importance of vaccinations to keep the UT community safe.
“We start the fall semester encouraging all community members to wear masks indoors, and we are continuing to offer vaccines and regular COVID-19 testing,” Hartzell said. “If you have not been vaccinated yet, now is the time, as it is our best tool to combat the virus.”
Although Hartzell has made his stance on the vaccine clear, the lack of a vaccine mandate means that not all players and fans will be vaccinated come Saturday. A New York Times COVID-19 vaccination tracker claims 58.2% of Texan adults are fully vaccinated. Dallas Morning News’ Chuck Carlton reported that as of Aug. 5, the Texas football program has a 90% vaccination rate among players, and COVID-19 testing is available for unvaccinated players.
“We’re all just trying to protect one another,” Sarkisian said in early August.
Despite the football team’s high vaccination rate and Sarkisian’s comments, Texas Athletics has made no mention of vaccines or mask wearing for Saturday’s matchup against No. 23 Louisiana.
Texas Athletics is not requiring fans to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter the stadium and currently has no mask mandate in place. Across college football, only LSU, Tulane, Oregon and Oregon State are requiring spectators to provide proof of vaccination at stadium gates. LSU will also require unvaccinated fans to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before kickoff. Tulane and both Oregon and Oregon State will also require fans to wear masks at all times, including outdoors.
Texas Athletic Director Chris Del Conte announced on April 20 that Texas will return to 100% capacity in the fall.
“We are planning for 100% capacity at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium this fall, and all of our Texas Traditions are back and better than ever,” Del Conte said.
During the 2020 season, DKR operated at 25% capacity, putting no more than 18,202 fans in the stands. This Saturday, DKR could be at full capacity for the first time since Sept. 7, 2019, when UT filled the stadium to 99% capacity for Texas’ game against LSU. It was the highest attendance of the 2019-2020 season.