As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Story County, Iowa State Athletics will no longer allow fans at the first football game, bringing relief to Story County’s Board of Public Health.
Prior to the announcement of the reversal, up to 25,000 fans were going to be allowed at the season opener Sept. 12 against Louisiana.
When the initial decision was announced Aug. 31, Dr. John Paschen, chairman of the Story County Board of Health, was “extremely disappointed” that Iowa State made this decision.
“The reality of this is that you have to think of a crowd of 25,000 people screaming and yelling,” Paschen said. “And who’s going to keep control of that? How many people would it take to keep control of that? There’s about 25,000 students, and they couldn’t keep control of them.”
In a statement to the Iowa State Daily, Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen said that they received “considerable concerns from the community” regarding the decision to allow 25,000 fans at the football game and decided to reverse the decision.
“This was a difficult decision, as you might imagine, because we know how passionate our fans are and how many of them were looking forward to cheering on their Cyclones in person,” Wintersteen said. “For subsequent games, including the second home game scheduled in October, we intend to assess circumstances at that time and then move forward accordingly.”
Paschen said that the highest-risk event, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is “a large, in-person gathering where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.”
He also compared an Iowa State football game to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally that occurred in early August and is linked to at least 260 COVID-19 infections and one death.
“They had people from all over the country," Paschen said. "No one registered; they just showed up. There’s no way that anyone is going to be able to track down how that has spread COVID-19 throughout our country.”
Paschen said that hosting spectators would have been a danger to not only Story County but to the communities where spectators are coming from.
“We’re currently in the midst of a phenomenally high positivity rate in this county,” Paschen said. “So this is not only a danger to the community, bringing more cases of COVID-19 into the community, but it’s also a danger to those communities who come into town to go to the game.”
In a statement released on the Iowa State Athletics website, Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard said that after getting approval for the plan over the weekend, he was notified by Wintersteen on Tuesday evening that she had decided to reverse the decision.
“Over the weekend, Dr. Wintersteen gave our working group the approval to move forward with the plans that were jointly developed,” Pollard said. “President Wintersteen shared with me on Tuesday evening that, after weighing feedback she has received from the community, she has decided to reverse the decision. As a result, we will play the season opener without fans.”
Paschen said that he is relieved to hear about the reversal of the decision.
“I think this is kind of the pattern that Iowa State has used," Paschen said. "They’ve done the right thing eventually. And I’m glad they did."
Wintersteen and Pollard both said that the decision to allow fans at upcoming games will be dependent on COVID-19 case numbers and will also be based on how the campus responds to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Story County.
“I deeply appreciate Jamie Pollard’s leadership and the dedication of his staff, coaches and our student athletes,” Wintersteen said. “We know that fans will be disappointed by this decision. However, in a situation that is changing rapidly, we must be prepared to modify plans as circumstances warrant.”
As the situation continues to evolve, Iowa State will not yet be making a decision on whether or not to allow fans at the Oklahoma game, which is scheduled for Oct. 3.