Story County Board of Health chairman weighs in on Iowa State’s fan decision

A masked Johnny Orr statue stands in the intake area while testers wait at Iowa State University’s COVID-19 testing center inside Johnny’s at Hilton Coliseum. 

Kylee Haueter

Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard announced in a Tuesday letter that Iowa State will be allowing up to 15,000 fans at the Cyclones’ Saturday game against West Virginia. 

Fans will also be able to attend Sunday’s men’s and women’s basketball games.

No fans have been in attendance at a football game since Iowa State played Baylor on Nov. 7, nor have any fans been in attendance at any of the basketball games so far.  

In the letter, Pollard stated that “the decision to allow fans to return to our venues was made after thorough discussion with university leaders after reviews of state and local COVID positivity trends and hospitalization rates.”

This decision comes after states around the country, including Iowa, faced record levels of COVID-19 cases and positivity rates. 

In Iowa and in Story County, cases have been trending downward but over 1,000 individuals still remain hospitalized in the state, though that number has been dropping.

Dr. John Paschen, an Ames physician and chairman of the Story County Board of Health, said Iowa State has been taking precautions seriously. Paschen does not think there will be significantly negative results due to the resumption of fans attending games. 

“I also have noticed that in their announcement, they mentioned that they were going to continue to keep the same mitigation measures up during the game, meaning everyone has to wear a mask,” Paschen said.

“And as we look at the mitigation measures that seem to be very successful in combating the spread of this virus, face coverings have risen to the surface,” he said. “The others are all important. Social distancing, washing hands, staying home if you’re sick. Yes, yes, that’s very good. But everyone wearing a face covering has really risen to the surface.”

Paschen said he would prefer that fans not be at the stadium, but that it will probably be OK.

“So far, Iowa State has shown a real measure of, shall I say sensitivity to this issue or responsibility for this issue, responsibility might be a better word to use,” he said regarding Iowa State’s implementation of COVID-19 guidelines.

Paschen also said he was impressed with the mitigation measures that will be implemented at Hilton Coliseum for the basketball game.

“When I looked at those and their seating arrangements, I was pretty impressed,” he said.” I wish the fans and the football stadiums were spread out more than what they are, but they’re doing that in Hilton.”

Seats at Hilton will be spaced out with two rows in between. There will be 1,373 seats available of the normal 14,384 capacity. That number includes seats taken by pep band, media and other staff.

Other mitigation strategies at Hilton include mandatory face coverings, limited movement in the Coliseum, no courtside seating, increased sanitation throughout the facility, limited concessions and no postgame autographs. 

Concessions will only be selling bottled beverages and fans are asked to refrain from eating and drinking unless they are in their seat. When unmasked to eat or drink, individuals are asked to refrain from yelling and cheering. 

Mitigation strategies at the football game will be the same as they have been for prior games. 

Paschen said everyone will have to be hypervigilant about coronavirus.

“If we get, you know, our cases start popping up after these games, then I think we’re gonna have to go to Iowa State and ask them to do something else,” he said. 

He added that so far, everything has worked out OK.

“Again, I feel the reason it’s probably worked out OK is because they’re really emphasizing mask wearing and in their initial plan for football games, they did not emphasize mask wearing. Now they are, I think it’s great,” Paschen said. 

Iowa State’s football team will play West Virginia at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. Men’s basketball will face DePaul at 5 p.m. Sunday and women’s basketball will play South Carolina at 11 a.m. Sunday at Hilton Coliseum.