No mask or vax required at home football opener
When the University of Illinois football team played its home opener the last weekend of August, an estimated 40,000 football fans gathered to cheer them on.
Few wore masks.
Spectators didn’t need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to watch the Illini go head-to-head in the team's full-capacity game since the start of the pandemic against the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, said Kent Brown, Illinois’ associate director of athletics.
Universities including Tulane, Oregon State and Syracuse required fans to be vaccinated or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to attend games this fall, according to ESPN.
But Brown said that’s not the case at U of I.
“Guests who come to campus are not required to have a vaccination proof or negative testing,” Brown said. “We haven’t made that move.”
Although vaccinations are required for students and faculty on campus, Brown said fans were only supposed to wear masks when indoors at the stadium, in places like hallways and elevators.
Trinity Dockery, a freshman at the university, said she only saw two people the entire game wearing masks indoors.
But Dockery said she felt comfortable removing her mask.
“I feel safe,” Dockery said. “I think the people who come to the games know the risks they’re taking, so I don’t think it’s a problem. If you come, just be safe about it.”
The vast majority of attendees at the game didn’t wear masks indoors or outdoors. Several employees and vendors went maskless as well.
Brown said university policy followed the Centers for Disease Control and Transmission guidelines and allowed fans to take off their masks when outdoors.
Brown said before the game that he believed event workers would ask spectators to wear their masks indoors if they were seen without one.
“The people who are coming to our games I think will cooperate,” he said. “But I’m sure we’ll have to remind some people to put their masks on.”
University students said they were excited to attend the first full-capacity football game of the season, where the Illini won 30-22.
Brown echoed their enthusiasm.
“I think from a mental health standpoint, getting back to some kind of normalcy is a positive,” Brown said.
Gwyn Skiles and Farrah Anderson report for the Illinois Student Newsroom at Illinois Public Media.