Editorial: UTA must prioritize student safety over sports event attendance

Fans sit socially distanced during a men's basketball game against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Jan. 16 at College Park Center.

While many university classrooms remain closed, College Park Center swells with sports fans each week. It’s an understatement to say that Texas’ COVID-19 response has failed as positive test results and hospitalizations increase daily.

UTA’s response to the pandemic resulted in a mix of on-campus and online classes, but the campus is practically a ghost town. While we understand it’s necessary to limit social encounters, priorities are unequally balanced, favoring the recreational over the educational.

In September, The Shorthorn reported that the UTA athletic department would restrict fans from the College Park Center. Two months later UTA Athletics announced plans to allow around 500 fans into each men’s and women’s basketball game.

Mavericks fans, as well as visiting fans, are permitted to freely intermingle exploring College Park Center, parking lots and other areas on or around campus. While it is true that face coverings are required, safety protocols have been implemented, and the university has spent over $500,000 on protective equipment such as contactless faucets, door foot pulls and plexiglass, no one can control spectators’ activities before or after games.

It’s nonessential for fans to attend sporting events, especially at the cost of endangering student-athletes, coaches and staff that follow strict guidelines to be able to continue their season.

According to the UTA COVID-19 Campus Operation Plan updated Jan. 14, the university uses alert levels to determine coronavirus transmission and the corresponding effects of campus operations. It states that the university may raise its alert level even if the county or state are relaxing restrictions.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on Jan. 21 that as of Monday the COVID-19 positivity rate for Tarrant County residents remained at 24%, and COVID-19 patients make up 23.32% of available beds in the North Central Texas Trauma Region.

This rate would have to drop below 15% for seven consecutive days before business capacity could increase per Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order.

The Tarrant County COVID-19 tracker website reports the community spread level as substantial. With this, the university should respond to the surge in coronavirus cases by restricting fans from sporting events and protecting its in-person population.

Some argue the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at College Park Center is better equipped to mitigate against the virus, but Donald Lange, UTA Facilities Management and Campus Operations assistant vice president, said in a UTA press release that social distancing, surface disinfection and good hygiene are more effective mitigation efforts than any HVAC system.

According to the press release, which published July 1, HVAC system updates were made across campus along with other COVID-related adjustments, but regardless, cases are steadily increasing.

In the meantime, UTA men's basketball team will host the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in a two-game series Friday, and a considerable crowd of people is expected. We hope the university will prioritize its students while selling tickets for upcoming recreational events as some classrooms remain closed.

The profits made from ticket sales and concessions at College Park Center are beside the point when some students continue paying full tuition for online learning and are still expected to purchase parking passes for rare circumstances requiring in-person attendance.

We can’t justify continuing to host public sporting events on campus while students are struggling to adapt to online learning and hoping the university will do everything it can to control the spread so we can get back to a traditional college experience.

After insufficient effort from state officials to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is essential for the university to make the difficult decision necessary to ensure the safety of its students, athletes, coaches and staff.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board is made up of opinion editor Katecey Harrell; Editor-in-Chief Cecilia Lenzen; associate news editor Spencer Brewer; Samantha Knowles, life and entertainment editor; sports editor Adrian Rodriguez; news reporter Thevnin Rumende; and copy editor Jill Bold.

opinion-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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