Despite concerns about overcrowded college football stadiums during the pandemic, college towns like Gainesville are not seeing increases in Covid-19 cases, said Cindy Prins, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, which tracks coronavirus trends across the country.
“I don’t see many ramifications of covid,” he said. “When we see these full stadiums, people get nervous because we’ve been avoiding crowds for a long time. but some of these outdoor events aren’t really the wide-spread events that people worry they’re going to be.”
Why cases don’t increase after football weekends?
“there are many factors. one is that people are outdoors, and we now know that being outdoors carries a much lower risk of transmission. I would also say that when you are sitting in a stadium, the riskiest people are those immediately around you; They may be the people you came with. it’s the people on either side of you, maybe the people in front of you or behind you, but it’s really a limited area. another factor, especially in florida: we’re still in pretty high heat and humidity, and covid doesn’t stay that long in that heavy air.”
Could you trade that for cooler, drier games?
“it is possible. we don’t know to what extent humidity reduces actual person-to-person transmission. but while I think the humidity may be helping, it doesn’t necessarily mean that cooler, drier weather will make people greedy in these games.”
How does what we’re seeing compare to what you or other epidemiologists expected to see?
“I would never say that no one is going to get covid-19 at a soccer game, but I wasn’t too worried about soccer games because of the outdoor factor. a lot of epidemiologists have expressed some concern and again it just comes from the idea that there are a lot of people together.”
There was concern about bars, restaurants and parties mixing populations from different communities, but that doesn’t seem to have had the effect we thought it would.
“It might have been different if it had been two months ago, if we were still going up in cases. right now, we are on the downward slope of our peak of delta virus cases. as we go down, we also see that we have a decent number of people vaccinated, especially in alachua county.”
When a team arrives from a place that has lower vaccination rates, do you think there could be a different result?
“Although people interact, they group together even inside the stadium. we have student grouping together. we have a grouping of probably some of our older, more vaccinated people together, and then our visitors are mostly sitting in one section.”
Is it possible that we don’t notice a spike because people coming in from out of town scatter after the weekend and don’t show up in the case count?
“Gainesville is almost an ideal place to see this kind of thing, because we are a smaller community. We are not a giant city. most of the people who go to those games, or enough of them who go to those games, are still locals to this area. our health screen ugh, test & the protect program is really good at identifying cases associated with the university, and we’re not seeing an increase at that level. And I think it’s really critical that we can look at the uf community, gainesville and other surrounding communities and see that they also haven’t had any increases in cases.”
What should people who go to a football match take into account?
“Number one, you want to get vaccinated. that is the most critical part of protecting yourself and others and being able to do these activities and feel comfortable. I would definitely wear a mask. I would certainly use it while waiting to get into the stadium with other people, I would use it when going to the concession stand. for me, I would still use it during the game. some people may feel more comfortable if they are sitting down and know that the people around them are vaccinated, but otherwise keep the mask in place and get vaccinated.”
Cindy Prins, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Florida, is an associate professor in the UF School of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF School of Medicine.