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Texas fans welcomed back to Longhorn football as COVID-19 cases rise

Most fans at the Longhorn home opener did not wear masks after UT announced they would not be required. Health officials worry it could cause more COVID-19 cases.

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas welcomed football fans back to Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium this year with tailgating and Bevo Blvd. The energy and excitement were high heading into the season-opener, but health officials urged caution amid rising cases of COVID-19.

"As they enter a stadium, exiting the stadium, there's always a potential for increased disease transmission in some areas," Janet Pichette, Austin Public Health's Chief Epidemiologist, said this week.

Most fans at the stadium did not wear masks while crowding each gate to get to their seats. Last year, the stadium opened with limited capacity and limited festivities.

To kick off the 2021 season, football fans brought out their tailgating gear and celebrated.

"We've been running this tailgate for 25 years," Mike Fenske said. "One thing I'm looking forward to at our home game is that the family reunion. We've been sitting next to these people for 25 years. I had one call me and said they're nervous about COVID, so they're not coming. That's their decision."

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Fenske added he got a COVID-19 vaccine and feels comfortable attending home games again, calling last year "the worst" because he could not keep up tailgating traditions. Thousands of other Longhorn and Ragin' Cajun fans brought out smokers, barbecues, drinks and TVs to watch.

RELATED: Texas Longhorns Game Day: What to know

Students returning to games shared the same enthusiasm, while entertaining caution where possible.

"I just got disconnected," Dominique McGaha, a graduate student at UT, said. "I'm still making sure that I follow the protocol as best as I can. Of course, it's a little lax."

McGaha joined others tailgating in the Capitol Complex a few blocks away from the football stadium.

"There are definitely some concerns," Jared Hurwit, another graduate student, said. "Obviously, the Delta Variant is, you know, very dangerous and everyone should get vaccinated to prevent and do what they can."

Hurwit said he had already been vaccinated and felt safe celebrating the first Longhorn game of the year. 

Health officials emphasized tailgating areas were of high concern for spreading COVID-19.

"Those are situations where people will be close together in close contact, congregating likely unmasked and and for long periods of time," Dr. Desmar Walkes, from Austin-Travis County Health Authority, said. "If you are not protected by vaccine or even if you're vaccinated and you have any co-morbidities that put you at risk for severe disease from COVID-19, you should avoid those situations."

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