Fans Still Allowed for UTEP & Locomotive FC Despite All-Time High in COVID-19 Cases
Updated at 4:11 PM with new updates from UTEP President Dr. Heather Wilson
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have reached an all-time high in El Paso following the news of 717 new COVID-19 cases and 373 hospitalized on Thursday morning.
Mayor Dee Margo spoke alongside El Paso health officials Thursday morning to announce another occupancy limit to 50% at restaurants and businesses, reducing the current 75% capacity. In addition, all restaurants will be limited to take out and drive-thru after 9 p.m.
The city is citing community spread and "COVID-19 fatigue" as the reason for the recent spike in cases.
In the sporting world, Margo announced that indoor sports will halt and outdoor events will take place without or with limited spectators. There isn't any indication of whether this will impact high school activities. Last week, the city of El Paso said that it cannot determine whether to stop high school activities. The decision to cancel or suspend activities will come down to a district and superintendent determination.
Fabens ISD is the only school district to postpone sports due to the rising COVID-19 cases.
Despite the directive, UTEP and Locomotive FC will still be able to allow spectators in attendance.
The Miners football team (3-1) is getting ready to host Southern Miss on Saturday and according to Athletic Director Jim Senter, the ticket sales are pacing similar to their first two games. The Miners averaged just a little over 6,000 fans through their first two home games in Stephen F. Austin and Abilene Christian. Senter told SportsTalk on Wednesday that despite the rising cases, there isn't any plans to enhance protocols for the already reduced capacity seating (18%).
"Despite the fact that there are cases rising in our community and we continue to monitor that on the university side of it and are concerned just like everyone else is," Senter said. "We know from the first two games, we didn't create any type of a spike as a result of having the first two games. What we know is that when people come to the Sun Bowl and maintain the social distancing, continue to wear their facemasks and sit with their families; when they continue to wash their hands; when people exercise the right amount of caution; when they follow CDC guidelines and best practices, we don't see a spike as a result of a game."
"The truth is it's not like they're putting tens upon tens of thousands of people at our stadium. That's why the Governor said that we have to social distance and it can't be over 50%. We're at % and we didn't even get to that number in the first two games. We need to continue to ask our fans that if you come, do all the right things. Make sure that we can keep having football games. I know we've had a few fans that maybe sit down and take their mask off. Or, they sit down where they're not supposed to sit, which encroaches upon the 6-foot social distancing. I've had fans tell me 'this has got to stop and we have to fix it,' and we're trying. I can tell you that we feel really good on the things that we've done and that are in place. I know that all the testing we do on campus is a very low positivity rate so we're going to keep doing the best practices."
El Paso Locomotive FC has their biggest match of the season this Saturday at home against rivals New Mexico United in the USL Championship Western Conference Semifinals. Southwest University Park has allowed a capacity of 1,600 spectators and Saturday's match already sold out early into the week.
The Miners kick off against Southern Miss at 5:30 p.m. MT and the Locomotive FC hit the pitch starting at 7:30 p.m. MT.
Late on Thursday, Dr. Heather Wilson released a statement in regards to enhanced gameday protocols for Saturday.
"We carefully monitored compliance and results of previous events and there was no evidence of community spread attributed to these outdoor, masked, socially distant, low-density attendance games. City guidance does not prohibit fans from coming to the Sun Bowl this weekend, in large part because the UTEP Athletic Department and UTEP fans have shown that we can do this safely.
"To further support the efforts of the city, UTEP will be taking additional measures this weekend.
- We will be informing UTEP faculty, staff and students who plan to go to the game and have not been tested this week that they should be tested beforehand on campus at one of the free, convenient UTEP testing stations. Miners take care of Miners.
- Temperatures will be checked with digital thermometers at the entrances to the stadium.
- We will continue to politely remind and correct people who do not wear masks or maintain social distance so that everyone who comes to the game can be safe and enjoy the game. At the first two games, this was not a problem."