UH still without fans in stands despite minimal risk of COVID spread at fully vaccinated events

Always Investigating

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The University of Hawaii football team plays on the road Saturday, Sept. 25, but they’ll be home a week Saturday, Oct. 2.

At home, the UH football team will still not be allowed to have fans at the new on-campus stadium, despite a UH request to allow a limited number of fully vaccinated, masked fans.

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Hawaii’s the only college team in the nation where fans are banned from home games. Always Investigating found research backs the safety of UH’s proposal.

The governor’s office has said they don’t want a super-spreader event. We found data models that show there’s essentially zero risk of that when factoring in UH’s safety measures.

UH only has six home games on its 2021 football schedule, and already two have been played to empty stands — the only college team in the nation with fans not allowed.

UH’s next home game is Oct. 2 against Fresno State, but there has not yet been a date by which the state and county will rescind the ban on fans at the new stadium at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex.

Officials have cited pandemic risks, case counts and hospitalizations from COVID, along with gathering restrictions under executive orders. But a UH plan for fully vaccinated admission, masks-on, and limited, distanced seating make it a low- to no-risk event according to the science. Always Investigating talked with an expert who has extensively studied and modeled COVID-19 spread in a variety of scenarios including stadium events.

“I think you do need to require vaccinations, but once you’ve done that, I think you can responsibly have a full crowd at football game. It’s not a reckless thing to do,” explained Prof. John McCarthy, Ph.D. He is a Washington University in St. Louis mathematician who along with a team of scientists has modeled stadiums, classrooms, airplanes and more — both pre- and post-Delta variant — to show the risks of COVID spread with or without various safety and prevention variables. McCarthy and his team have consulted extensively with dozens of teams and leagues, state and county officials and all four major U.S. pro sports on safe attendance strategies.

“The mandatory vaccination makes a super spreader event extremely unlikely, because everybody has two shields,” McCarthy explained. “I think this is as safe as we’re going to get.”

Always Investigating asked the governor, state health director and mayor if the stadium data models — coupled with Hawaii’s recent declining COVID and hospitalization trends — would prompt a change in the vaccinated-fan attendance ban, especially considering most of Hawaii’s cases and the vast majority of hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.

The governor’s office said: “COVID case rates and hospitalizations appear to be declining, but we continue to watch the numbers closely to ensure the trend is sustained. The governor is a long-time UH Warrior football fan, and he looks forward to attending Warrior athletic events once again, when it is safe to do so.”

Mayor Rick Blangiardi told Always Investigating that the university has developed a modified plan for 1,000 people at football games, 150 people at volleyball matches, attendees will include family and friends of student athletes and staff, UH Students and a limited number of other fans, all fully vaccinated, masked and physically distanced, and no food or drink concessions.

“With the overall COVID situation stabilizing we are in support and have recommended approval to the state,” Blangiardi said.

When KHON2 asked if the mayor is pushing for approval mayor pushing for approval before Oct. 2 game, a spokesperson responded: “The timeline is TBD.”

The Department of Health did not yet respond to our questions about getting fans back in stands by Oct. 2.

“It’s an outdoor event in which everybody’s vaccination status is being checked, it’s comparably safe to many other activities we’re happy doing,” McCarthy observed. It is safer than, for instance, teaching in classrooms where there isn’t mandatory vaccination.”

Every school day in Hawaii, thousands of students attend Hawaii’s largest state-property high schools for example – 3,000-plus a day just at Campbell High School — without any super-spreader or large-cluster outbreaks yet reported.

More than 10,000 people a day on swap-meet days this summer attended Aloha Stadium, another state facility, with no vaccine mandate and again no super-spreader or cluster reports. Swap meet attendance been capped at 50% lately, but even that would be more than half of Ching Field’s capacity.

More than 20,000 people a day land at state airports, hundreds at a time per planeload, most with a vaccine card or negative COVID test, and the state says that’s as safe as can be.

Check out what’s going on around Hawaii on our Local News page

Whether 1,000 or more vaccinated fans will be allowed to watch football in person at the Oct. 2 game remains to be seen. We’ll continue to follow up.

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