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Campus leadership discusses COVID-19 policies ahead of football home opener

| Friday, September 10, 2021

Notre Dame recently announced policies regarding COVID-19, masking and activities for home football weekends in an email sent to students, faculty and staff. The policies include not requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before entering the stadium, requiring all visitors to wear masks when in indoor buildings on campus and permitting tailgating in designated lots.

Vice president for campus safety and university operations Mike Seamon said in an email that planning for how to bring back home football weekends began in early March, as members from the campus safety and university operations, athletic department, university enterprises and events divisions started addressing how to best prepare for the upcoming season, in consultation with local health officials.

One of the local health officials who worked with the University was Dr. Mark Fox, deputy health officer for the St. Joseph County department of health. Fox said the factors taken into consideration when planning for the upcoming season included monitoring large gatherings at events such as Major League Baseball (MLB) games and communicating with officials at other universities. He said the insight gleaned from monitoring MLB games and large outdoor gatherings bode well for the safety of the campus as the football season starts, in addition to the high vaccination rate among Notre Dame students and other campus community members.

“Ultimately I think the decision was based on what we have seen from other outdoor large capacity venues, the risk of transmission in open air has not been identified as a significant risk as opposed to indoor concert venues or other large capacity gatherings in enclosed spaces,” said Fox.

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Notre Dame Stadium will allow a full capacity crowd for the first time since 2019 during its home opener against Toledo on Saturday.

Additionally, Fox said another factor in the decision to not require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was the difficulty requiring vaccine passport data presents. Schools like Louisiana State University (LSU) and Boston College announced fans must present COVID-19 vaccination proof or a recent negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the stadium. Fox said the policy is easier to implement at a state school like LSU with more in-state fans because the state vaccine registry is tied to Louisiana residents’ driver’s licenses and is more accessible as compared to Notre Dame which tends to draw a more national fanbase. 

Both Fox and University spokesperson Dennis Brown said the University will continue to monitor Notre Dame home football games and other large outdoor venues and adjust policies as needed. 

Seamon said another policy in place for the upcoming weekend is the University’s effort to move as many activities outdoors as possible. He said in the email “Trumpets Under the Dome” will take place outside on Main Quad rather than inside the Main Building. Other traditions including the Friday pep rally are currently scheduled to return.

The University also announced all visitors, regardless of vaccination status, are expected to wear masks when indoors on campus. All unvaccinated visitors are expected to wear masks at all times, even if outdoors. Members of the campus community are required to wear masks when in indoor areas where guests are present, including inside Notre Dame Stadium, according to the email.

Fox said he is more concerned about the transmission of COVID-19 during the peripheral events this weekend rather than in the open air inside the stadium. At the county level, he said the bigger risk is not the spread of COVID at the game but the gatherings in restaurants and bars around St. Joseph County.

“I think the bigger risk for the county as a whole is not what happens, either in the stadium lot or in the stadium itself,” said Fox. “It’s what happens in all the restaurants and bars and kind of all the associated activities that the community will pursue over the course of a football weekend.”

Notre Dame announced it will switch entirely to mobile ticketing and cashless concessions inside the stadium. Seamon said in the email he expects these to be permanent changes. 

Seamon and Fox both said all the measures in place were made with the safety of all campus community members and visitors as the highest priority and that they are excited for the return of football weekends. Fox said he is grateful for the responsiveness of University leadership throughout the preparation for the season and their willingness to adapt as the season progresses.

“I appreciate the fact that both Notre Dame athletics and the University leadership has said this is our plan for the first two games and they’re certainly open to revisiting any of these decisions based on what we find,” said Fox.

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About Ryan Peters

Ryan is a sophomore in Knott Hall who hails from Lake Forest, Illinois. He is majoring in marketing and — temporarily — political science. He currently serves as an associate news editor for The Observer. Follow him on Twitter @peterrsryan.

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