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Tens Of Thousands Gather For Illini Football Opener: Few Masks Worn, No Vaccinations Required

Gwyn Skiles

An estimated 40,000 football fans, most unmasked, packed Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois Saturday for the first full-capacity game since the start of the pandemic. 

Spectators didn’t need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to watch the Illini go head-to-head with the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, said Kent Brown, Illinois’ associate director of athletics.

Universities including Tulane, Oregon State and Syracuse required fans to be vaccinated or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to attend games this fall, according to ESPN. 

But Brown said that’s not the case at U of I.

“Guests who come to campus are not required to have a vaccination proof or negative testing,” Brown said. “We haven’t made that move.”

Although vaccinations are required for students and faculty on campus, Brown said fans were only supposed to wear masks when indoors at the stadium, in places like hallways and elevators. 

Trinity Dockery, a freshman at the university, said she only saw two people the entire game wearing masks indoors. 

But Dockery said she felt comfortable removing her mask. 

“I feel safe,” Dockery said. “I think the people who come to the games know the risks they’re taking, so I don’t think it’s a problem. If you come, just be safe about it.”

The vast majority of attendees at the game didn’t wear masks indoors or outdoors. Several employees and vendors went maskless as well.

Brown said university policy followed the Centers for Disease Control and Transmission guidelines and allowed fans to take off their masks when outdoors. 

Brown said before the game that he believed event workers would ask spectators to wear their masks indoors if they were seen without one. 

The people who are coming to our games I think will cooperate,” he said. “But I’m sure we’ll have to remind some people to put their masks on.”

University students said they were excited to attend the first full-capacity football game of the season, where the Illini won 30-22.

Brown echoed their enthusiasm.

“I think from a mental health standpoint, getting back to some kind of normalcy is a positive,” Brown said.

Picture of Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson is a student at the University of Illinois studying journalism. At Illinois Public Media, Anderson works as a general assignment reporter and produces and hosts the 217 Today podcast.

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