AUSTIN (KXAN) — “I think it’s not really living in the realm of reality for what we’re likely to experience this fall,” Austin’s Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday in reference to the reopening of University of Texas football games.
In a Tuesday meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court, Escott gave an update on the county’s continuing response to COVID-19 and fielded a question about UT Austin’s decision to play its regular Longhorn football season at 50% stadium capacity.
“We are in discussions with UT. We were caught a little off guard with the announcement that they intended to open the stadium with 50% capacity — which is in the neighborhood of 50,000 people in one place,” said Escott. “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.”
Dr. Escott tweeted Thursday that everyone should sit on the couch for Longhorn games, rather than in a seat at DKR.
He explained there has been some discussion about having football games without a crowd present, but there’s concern with that as well.
“I think we’ve seen that with professional baseball,” Escott said. “It’s naturally social distanced, but disease spread is happening.”
Escott said he thinks the way the disease spreads among professional athletes would be different than how it spreads among college-aged people.
“It’s going to impact people of color who are athletes, it’s going to affect families of those athletes — who are the least-resourced to be able to get the health care they need. They are at higher risk than the rest of the community in terms of hospitalization and death. Quite frankly, I think it’s going to be a struggle for us to even allow teams to play on a field without the crowd.”
Escott also pointed to other complications that would arise, including having team cancellations due to illness or possible spread and widespread coordination of testing ahead of games.
However, 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.
Escott said during the meeting that Travis County has seen an improvement in seven-day averages. Overall, Travis County has the 15th highest number of active cases out of all Texas counties. As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been 252 COVID-19-related deaths in Travis County and 2,651 cases considered are active.
“I think the idea of having 50,000 people in one space is a bit of reach right now,” Escott said.