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Officials at the University of Texas at Austin said Wednesday night that students with football season tickets will be required to take COVID-19 tests Friday and test negative before they can attend Saturday's season opener against the University of Texas at El Paso.
But the same precautions won't be required of thousands of other fans in the stands this Saturday. There is no testing requirement for fans who aren't UT-Austin students, nor is there a requirement for visitors from El Paso. And not all UT-Austin students are required to be tested — only those who buy "The Big Ticket" season package are subject to the tests, but students who purchase individual game tickets are exempt, said J.B. Bird, a UT-Austin spokesperson.
Bird later said that individual tickets wouldn't be sold for the Saturday game. As of Thursday evening, about 3,000 students purchased the Big Ticket, said John Bianco, a spokesperson for the university's athletic department, in an email.
The mandatory pregame tests will be provided by the university for free. Students will have from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to get tested on campus Friday, according to the university athletics website.
Students, however, were not required to test negative before returning to campus or attending in-person classes.
The Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium where the game will be held holds a little over 100,000 people, but capacity for the game will be limited.
"Right know our capacity looks like it will be about 18,000," Bianco said.
Meanwhile, outdoor gatherings in Austin are still limited to 10 people or less. Gov. Greg Abbott, however, allowed Texas sports to resume with limited fans in the stands.
Austin officials have repeatedly voiced concerns about the public health effects of hosting such a large gathering at this time.“Our gathering limit is 10, and having 25,000 people in one space is a concern,” Mark Escott, Austin Public Health’s interim health authority, said at a press conference Wednesday morning.
Game attendees must wear masks, there will be marking for social distance and tailgates will not be allowed. The university also added 225 hand sanitizer stations throughout the stadium.
Wednesday, the university reported three coronavirus clusters in the West Campus area with about 100 positive cases collectively. Football student-athletes get tested for the virus three times per week. As of Thursday evening, no players tested positive or are in self-isolation or quarantine, Bianco said.
Earlier this week, Baylor University and Louisiana Tech University postponed their opening game due to a spike in coronavirus cases following Hurricane Laura, according to a university statement. Texas Christian University also postponed its season opener against Southern Methodist University. Both games were scheduled for Saturday.
Disclosure: Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at El Paso have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Sami Sparber contributed to this report.
Correction: This story incorrectly stated that the University of Texas at Austin reported three coronavirus clusters in an on-campus dorm. The clusters are in undesignated locations in the West Campus area.