AUSTIN (KXAN) — Longhorns Athletics Director Chris Del Conte confirmed just days ago that UT’s Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium will be welcoming in fans this fall — at a recommended 25% capacity.
But Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott still believes that’s too many people, given the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus.
As DKR can hold just over 100,000 fans, opening at 25% capacity will mean that around 25,000 fans can attend when football games start Sept. 12 with a game hosting the University of Texas at El Paso.
At a weekly press briefing on COVID-19, Escott told members of local media that his position in the past has been that it would be best to make sure that football games can be played involving two teams without any spectators. If that can be done successfully, then Escott said he would be open to discussing “if and how many people we can put in the stands.”
Escott was direct in his disapproval for the Texas Longhorns’ current plan for fans, saying “I think 25,000 [spectators] is too many.”
“I think we should start small,” he continued.
Escott said that in Austin Public Health’s discussions with local school districts about football games, the suggestion has been, “let’s see if we can play, lets see if we can have two healthy teams play one another and then let’s talk about introducing parents of the athletes into the stands and again move gradually towards more people as we can prove success.”
“Packing 25,000 people in, even in a 100,000 seat stadium, introduces a lot of risk, not only to the people who are there but to the community as well,” he continued, noting the impacts of having this people observe football games in person this fall could have ripple effects across Austin.
Escott has cautioned against welcoming in fans back to DKR before. In late July, he noted that people who assume spectators will be able to attend UT football games in person this fall are “not really living in the realm of reality for what we’re likely to experience this fall.”
Back when UT had said it planned to open the stadium at 50% capacity, Escott said Austin health leaders were caught off guard by the announcement.
Back in July, Escott told county commissioners, “I’ll say again what I said a month or two ago. And that is that large gatherings are the first thing that closed down and should be the last thing to open up again.”
On July 30, Escott took to Twitter, urging fans to watch UT football games from the TV, saying that if COVID-19 disease prevalence continues, with a game where 25,000 fans are watching in person at the stadium, more than 100 of those fans can be expected to have the virus.
But the city doesn’t have the authority to stop UT from having football games.
That decision is up to the college administration and the state. UT Austin is governed by the state of Texas rather than the City of Austin.
Technically, the capacity that UT has set for DKR is lower than the 50% capacity for professional and collegiate sports in outdoor venues allowed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
Students are moving back to UT Austin campus this week and classes for the fall semester at UT will begin on August 26 with a mix of online and in-person courses.
Texas Longhorns updated 2020 schedule
|Sept. 12||vs. UTEP|
|Sept. 26||at Texas Tech|
|Oct. 3||vs. TCU|
|Oct. 10||vs. Oklahoma (at Cotton Bowl)|
|Oct. 24||vs. Baylor|
|Oct. 31||at Oklahoma State|
|Nov. 7||vs. West Virginia|
|Nov. 21||at Kansas|
|Nov. 28||vs. Iowa State|
|Dec. 5||at Kansas State|