AUSTIN, Texas - UT Austin athletics said they are moving forward with a seating plan to allow 25 percent occupancy at DKR Texas Memorial Stadium during football games this Fall. The announcement comes just one week before the semester officially begins.
Instead of the usual flood of UT students getting ready for their Fall semester, the return to campus looks a lot more like a trickle this year. "Oh, it’s so dead. Last year, when we came, it was really loud, chaotic, right now it’s just really quiet," said Jasmine Serna, who will be starting her sophomore year at UT-Austin.
By the end of the week, residence halls will be open and registration underway. Classes begin in about a week, however, they are mostly online this year. Any in-person courses will be limited to 40 percent occupancy.
"So I know that the school is trying a lot to implement those social distancing guidelines, but I still think it’s going to be a big struggle cause this is obviously the first time we’ve done anything like this, especially in a school as big as UT," said Jason Oh, a business student who expects to graduate from the university this December.
"I want to go back to class so, yeah, I’m okay with it," Serna said.
University officials are requesting students returning to campus quarantine for two weeks before attending any school activities. Meanwhile, parties on and off-campus are not allowed and could result in disciplinary action.
Although, students said they expect that rule will be quickly broken by many of their classmates. "I don’t think they care at all... They’ve been stuck at home for six months, so they’re going to be like, 'I want to go see all my friends,'" Serna said.
"I feel like that’s going to be a big issue because I think a lot of college-aged students, I’m guilty of this to a certain extent, we’re just thinking, 'Oh, we’re invincible. We’re gonna be okay.' And then things will happen," said Oh.
The university is also trying to tackle the best way to handle the Fall football season.
Dr. Mark Escott, Interim health authority at Austin Public Health, has been skeptical about whether it’s smart to seat any fans at all. "Quite frankly, I think it’s going to be a struggle for us to even allow teams to play on the field without the crowd," Escott said during a Travis County Commissioners meeting in late July.
Still, a spokesman for UT athletics said they are currently working on a safety model for 25 percent occupancy at DKR Memorial Stadium, about 25,000 fans.
Students aren’t convinced the risk is worth the trip. "I will not, just for safety reasons, but I’ll be watching and supporting from my house," said Oh.
"No, I don’t think I’m going to games. Last year I got the big-ticket, but this year I didn’t even buy it... Because if we can’t even go to a class, how are we going to go to a game?" Serna said.
The university will use the Protect Texas Together app to help students and faculty track COVID-19 symptoms and exposure.
Masks are also required in all campus buildings except when alone, eating, or drinking or in a dorm room.