GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – As East Carolina University prepares for its football home opener against South Carolina, the school deals with lingering questions surrounding COVID-19 and the large crowd expected.
Between 40 to 45 thousand fans are expected to attend Saturday’s game at noon, and ECU Police say it is one of the larger crowds they’ve had in several seasons.
“In the open stadium area and underneath of the concourse, fans will not be required to wear masks. It’s recommended. Follow CDC guidelines if they’ve not been vaccinated to please mask up for their safety and others around them. If they go into any of the enclosed spaces, then they will have to have a mask… because we currently have an indoor mask mandate.”
Capt. Chris Sutton says his department has been preparing for the crowds at home games since the end of last season, and that they’re working with other agencies to handle the large crowd.
“At ECU, this is not the first time that any of us have worked football games before, with crowds this size, or even crowds larger,” Sutton said. “The agencies that are coming in to support us, all of those mutual aid agencies have worked with us in previous years, they have very experienced personnel.”
Greenville Police, Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, Winterville Police, Ayden Police, Highway Patrol and the FBI will help assist ECU to be proactive and continue to offer a more secure environment.
Saturday’s game comes amid another pandemic school year with ECU seeing an increase in new cases among students, yet at least half of the student population on campus is vaccinated, according to the dashboard.
With the Delta variant causing increased transmission across the country, the university says fans should keep in mind their personal safety and those around them when entering the stadium.
ECU Division of Health Sciences’ mobile health unit will be at Gate 5 to not only showcase what the health campus is doing, but to also offer the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’re concerned about Covid all the time,” Shackelford said. “And the best thing that you can do … is get vaccinated. If we have an opportunity to give the vaccine, we’re not going to miss out on the opportunity.”
An opportunity that includes South Carolina fans, which Shackelford said he’s not concerned about.
“We don’t believe that the South Carolina fans are going to bring in any more Covid than we have here … in fact, we’re happy they’re here,” Shackelford said. “Their soul and their spirit is just as important as their physical health, so we are excited that we are able to have some fun and have a football game and have some level of normality that we haven’t had in a long time, so I think that’s critical and important. The second thing is that we want to do it safely, so again, the same message that we continue to send, if you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you’re inside, wear that mask, wash your hands. Simple things like that will help mitigate the spread.”
Other concerns Sutton said law enforcement officials will monitor is extreme intoxication and binge drinking at tailgate fields.
“We want our students to have a great time and enjoy the atmosphere but also be very responsible in their behavior,” Sutton said.
He added there will be heat management plans in place with cooling stations and EMS personnel on hand.
Sutton expects traffic will be backed up Saturday morning until 11:30 a.m. and then pick back up again when the game ends between 3 to 3:30 p.m.
14th between Elm and Charles Boulevard and College Hill Drive from 10th Street up to 14th Street will close at 9 a.m. to allow for heavy pedestrian traffic.
Sutton recommends drivers avoid the area or take alternate routes on game day.
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