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SEC expects to allow fans in the stands with social distancing for 2020 football season

Auburn football vs Georgia South on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama. (Via Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics)

The Southeastern Conference on Tuesday approved rules allowing schools to have fans in the stands, but fans in attendance will be required to wear masks or cloth face coverings that cover both the nose and mouth during all of the games in the 2020 season.

The announcement was part of new guidelines released by the SEC that were made in consultation with medical experts and the CDC. Following the announcement, the University of Alabama announced that it will limit capacity to just 20 percent. Also, all tailgating will be banned through the 2020 season.

Auburn University has not yet announced how many, if any, fans will be allowed in the stadium.

Auburn will open the season on Sept. 26 at home versus Kentucky and will end the season at home versus Texas A&M. Alabama will open the season Sept. 26 with Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, and close the season Dec. 5 playing Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Iron Bowl will be Nov. 28 in Tuscaloosa.

The University of South Alabama announced last week that they will be restricting fans to 25 percent of capacity and fans will be required to wear masks. Alabama State University and Alabama A&M, like all members of the SWAC Conference, have postponed their 2020 football season to the Spring of 2021. The Ivey League, MAC, Mountain West, Big 10, and PAC 12 and the University of Connecticut have similarly postponed the season due to COVID-19 fears.

The SEC guidelines were based on recommendations from the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force.

“These fan guidelines have been adopted by the 14 member schools of the Southeastern Conference as baseline recommendations for the campus management of fan health and safety,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “Although local and state guidelines will determine if and how many fans can attend games, these guidelines provide conference-wide expectations for protection of guests who are able to attend our games.”

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The SEC’s list of “Fan Health and Safety Guidelines” for the 2020 football season allows the schools to determine the number of fans permitted to attend in accordance with applicable state and local guidelines, policies and/or regulations. Without state and/or local guidelines, policies and/or regulations, the schools are to follow the recommendations of the CDC.

Masks or face coverings (over the nose and mouth) shall be required as a condition of all guest ingress, egress and movement throughout the stadium, as well as any time guests are unable to maintain the recommended physical distance from others who are not in their same household. Stadium workers and athletics staff should wear face coverings at all times.

Barriers (e.g., plexiglass) shall be installed at all points-of-sale or otherwise all concessions staff shall wear a face shield plus a mask. Queuing lines at points-of-sale shall permit physical distancing between guests. “Grab and go” food/beverage options should be considered at point-of-sale locations.

Beverages shall be provided directly to guests. Machines designed to allow guests to fill or refill beverages must remain inoperable. Condiments shall be offered only as single-serve condiments, and condiment carts shall be prohibited.

All portable points-of-sale locations shall be strategically placed to ensure physical distancing is permitted between guests who are in line or may be in close proximity to the selling location for other purposes.

Signage shall be installed at parking lots, pedestrian paths to the stadium, gates and/or other ingress/entry points that outlines mandates for all guests to wear face coverings, maintain physical distancing and mandates guests do not enter the stadium if they display any COVID-19 symptoms as outlined by the CDC. All tickets shall be digitally scanned.

The footprint at all gates and ingress/entry and egress/exit points shall permit physical distancing between guests.

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Institutions that cooperate with and/or arrange for shuttles to transport guests to/from the stadium shall ensure the shuttle operator has sufficient protocols/procedures in place including, but not limited to, the following: Maintaining physical distancing while guests are on the shuttle, entering/exiting the shuttle and while waiting in lines to board the shuttle; Requiring face coverings as a condition for shuttle usage for drivers and guests at all times while aboard the shuttle, entering/exiting and while waiting in line; and Planning to sufficiently and regularly disinfect the shuttle.

Institutions shall have a documented plan that outlines the procedures/protocol for appropriate disinfection of the stadium. Institutions shall have a documented plan that outlines the procedures/protocol for working with guests who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. Institutions shall launch a communication/public relations campaign for communicating all COVID-19 procedures/protocol to prospective guests. Institutions shall ensure they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the development and implementation of all procedures/protocols.

“Suite hopping” shall be prohibited. Sufficient signage that promotes and instructs suite holders to wear face coverings and maintain physical distancing shall be installed near ingress/entry points. Furniture shall be arranged in clubs to promote physical distancing. Each suite and club shall be supplied with sufficient hand washing and/or hand sanitizing stations.

Guests shall be permitted to access “field level” suites or clubs that are not within six feet (6’) of any team area. Additionally, institutions must ensure guests do not access a pathway to enter or exit a “field level” suite or club at the same time a student-athlete, coach, team staff member, game official or other game participant is utilizing the same pathway.

Institutions shall ensure the set-up and operational procedures in all areas accessed by guests permit physical distancing including, but not limited to, the following areas: Guest Seating, Concourses and Gathering Places, Concessions Sales, Restrooms, and Escalators. Sufficient signage that promotes and instructs guests to wear face coverings and maintain physical distancing shall be in place in areas accessed by guests.

Signage must specify the maximum number of guests who may be inside an elevator simultaneously at each elevator entry point (elevator operators shall wear face coverings).

The usage of traditional water fountains or other apparatuses providing drinking water shall be prohibited and all must be clearly marked or covered to indicate its use is prohibited. This does not apply to apparatuses that use touchless technology. Sufficient hand washing and/or hand sanitizing stations should be present throughout the stadium.

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Stadium restrooms must have entry and exit points clearly designated, and sufficient signage shall be in place to assist with traffic flow and promote physical distancing.

Institutions shall implement measures that promote physical distancing, reduce touchpoints and/or assist with minimizing the spread of COVID-19 including, but not limited to, the following: Installing additional hand sanitizer and hand soap dispensers; and leaving doors open at entry/exit points.

Institutions were given the latitude to determine whether tailgating or other large gatherings of guests (e.g., alumni events, university recruiting events, etc.) are permitted on property owned and/or controlled by the institution in accordance with applicable state and local guidelines, policies and/or regulations.

In the absence of state and/or local guidelines, CDC recommendations on physical distancing should be applied. Considerations should be given as to the time parking lots open.

Institutions were also given the latitude to determine whether team walks are permitted; but that decision must be in accordance with applicable state and local guidelines, policies and/or regulations. If permitted, all institutional personnel (e.g., student-athletes, coaches, team staff, athletic department staff, etc.) and guests in attendance shall wear face coverings.

If permitted, institutions shall ensure recommended physical distancing exists and may be maintained at all times between walk participants and guests. Team walks shall be prohibited if physical distancing cannot be implemented during its entirety.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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