Student section to be grouped in 10s, more prominent markers at next game

Baylor freshman cheer on the Bears while disobeying social distancing and mask guidelines. Rod Aydelotte | Waco Tribune Herald. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics.

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

While the homecoming game may have been canceled, new COVID-19 guidelines will be put into place for the student section at the next home game on Oct. 31.

Matt Burchett, director of Student Activities, said that the first major change is a transition from groups of four and six in the bleachers to groups of 10.

“I think [this] will add less complexity to the student section,” Burchett said. “I think we added way too much moving parts to try and effectively manage it.”

In addition, they will be marking off the different sections with flags, rather than stickers on the bleachers, to make them more prominent.

“And then we’re simplifying,” Burchett said. “So it will be one row of 10, two rows marked off, one row of 10, two rows marked off.”

There will also be a center aisle created in the middle of each section for staff to be able to walk around and better ensure compliance.

Students who receive a ticket to the game from the ticket pool will be notified about these changes. A sample model of the stands was created and photographed last week to send to students.

“We’ll make it really clear what it will take for us to have a successful and safe football game … which I think will offer some clarity to those ticket holders,” Burchett said.

Burchett said they want as many students in the stands as possible but will be asking that students remain compliant by staying in the groups of 10 and wearing their masks.

“There will be opportunities for students who forget their masks to be able to get one there on site,” Burchett said. “If the mask falls down, I think we’ll have opportunities for warnings to make sure that they are complying to the guidelines which are all designed to keep as many people safe as possible.”

Dr. Jim Marsh, dean of Student Health and Wellness and executive director for Counseling Services, said there was not a significant rise in cases in the targeted testing of students after the first home football game.

Marsh said they are not sure if this testing will be implemented after the next game, but they will if they feel that they need to.

“One of the reasons that we did the testing after the Kansas game, we wanted a chance to see what human behavior would be like at a game,” Marsh said. “One of the things that gave us some concern is that, at least some, of the students didn’t maintain social distancing or other protocols.”

Burchett said that the Bluetooth bracelets that were used for the Baylor Line were able track the small number of cases that came from that section.

“The Bluetooth technology was okay,” Burchett said. “It wasn’t great. We’ve been working alongside the company, and we think we may have resolved some of the issues that we did have. It was good to a degree, but much like everything with COVID, everyone’s building the plane as we’re flying it.”

Dr. Sharon Stern, medical director, said it is difficult to pinpoint where positive cases are coming from, in general.

“One thing that happens at football games that doesn’t happen at most of your parties or get togethers or dinners with friends is that it’s on television,” Stern said. “So every single person that’s watching or even that’s just on social media, they’re going to see pictures and video of people not following the safety guidelines.”

She reminds students that although wearing a mask and remaining socially distant may be fatiguing, it is important to remain consistent.

“We just have to do it for a bit longer,” Stern said. “Until the pandemic either gets better or we get a good effective vaccine and enough people vaccinated that it’s not an issue anymore.”

She said while exposure doesn’t just happen at games, eating and not being able to control what those around you are doing may pose risk.

“I don’t think that [students] necessarily need to be worried to go to the game,” Stern said. “I think I would want to have a buddy plan to where somebody was on the same page as me and knew enough to respect the infection and to push back and get away from people who are not being safe.”

Marsh said that compliance with surveillance and target testing is beneficial as well.

“One of the ways you can really help us reduce the risk of the spread of the virus is by complying with that request,” Marsh said.

Burchett emphasized that he wants to continue to provide an opportunity for students to connect in person.

“We all want to end this semester beautifully with as many of these great experiences and traditions as we possibly can,” Burchett said. “Our ability to do that is predicated on everyone looking out for each other.”