Austin health authority says "College football this fall is going to be a stretch"

Besides fans, main concern is disease spread in college and high school age groups

Talk 1370 Newsroom
July 28, 2020 - 4:11 pm
Longhorns Football Fans

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN ( -- Austin's top health authority threw water on hopes for a football season this fall, calling it a "bit of a reach" to expect 50,000 people at a University of Texas football game as long as the coronavirus remains a risk.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin and Travis County, gave his weekly update to Travis County Commissioners Tuesday.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea asked Escott if he was advising the UT athletics department on their plans for football this fall. "We were caught a little off guard by the announcement that they intended to open the stadium with 50 percent capacity, which is in the neighborhood of 50,000 people in one place," Escott said. "I'll say again what I said a month or two ago... large gatherings were the first to shut down and large gatherings should be the last to open up again."

In a letter to Longhorn football season ticket holders last week, athletic director Chris Del Conte said the university plans to open the season with a 50 percent capacity limit, in accordance with state guidelines.

Escott mentioned that even without a crowd present, there is still concern - pointing out the developing situation in Major League Baseball, which Escott called "naturally socially distant", where a number of players for the Miami Marlins are dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak just three days after the league resumed play.

"My concern is that disease spread in that college-age group, and certainly in the high school age group, is going to look different than it does in professional sports," Escott said. "It's going to impact people of color who are athletes. It's going to impact families of those athletes who are the least-resourced to be able to get the healthcare they need. They are at higher risk than the rest of the community in terms of hospitalization and death."

Escott praised the decision of some conferences, including the SWAC, who have delayed their season until the spring.

"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 said. "I think introducing the idea of having 50,000 people in one space is a bit of a reach right now. I think it's not really living in the realm of reality for what we're likely to experience this fall."

Escott also touched on re-opening plans for schools. He said an advisory group was working on risk-based recommendations that would likely begin with a phased re-opening of schools, likely beginning with a limit of no more than 25% in-person learning and ramping up as the risk of COVID-19 spread decreases.

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