Attending LSU basketball games more dangerous than attending football games, epidemiologist warns

LSU says it has adequate precautions in place

An announced plan to limit the stands at LSU basketball’s games to 25 percent capacity is not restrictive enough to adequately prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, an infectious disease expert says, but interim LSU President Tom Galligan said the actual capacity will likely be between 16 to 18 percent when social distancing rules are enforced.

According to a Nov. 27 press release from the university’s athletics department, the crowds will be kept to 25 percent capacity, which comes to about 3,303 fans. If the actual number is about 16 percent, as Galligan predicts it will be, that would allow about 2,114 fans in. Groups larger than 10 will not be permitted,  face masks would be required throughout the arena and at all times except for when fans are actually eating or drinking. There will also be restrictions on how concessions are sold.

In the 2019-20 season, which ended abruptly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of 10,536 people attended every home game. 

Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University, said she is “seriously glad” attendance will start somewhere lower than 25 percent capacity. But, she said, “that’s still going to be a lot of people who have to move in and out and who are going to be sharing the same air space for a considerable period of time.” 

Capacity at Tiger Stadium has been limited to 25 percent, but Hassig said attending basketball games will be riskier because the arena is an indoor space and everyone inside will share the same air for about two and a half hours.

Galligan said, “I do think it’s safe because of all the safeguards that are in place and the enforcement.” He said LSU will also enforce its mask mandate during basketball games more strictly than it did during football games.

“Even though it is a large space,” Hassig said, “the problem is that people won’t be sitting quietly reading a book, they’re going to be yelling and screaming and laughing,” Hassig said. “That means if someone with the virus is there, even if they’re masked, masks are not going to contain everything and it will get into that volume of air.”

Hassig said fans who’ve attended a New Orleans Saints game at the Louisiana Superdome should remember the lingering smoke following the typical pre-game fireworks display.  COVID-19 particles would linger the same way, she said.

People should “think very carefully about their own health status and their own risk,” Hassig said, “not perhaps just for themselves but for people they share a household with.“

“People who are older or potentially vulnerable probably should not attend.”

Galligan said LSU would consider playing basketball with fewer fans in attendance or even with no fans at all, but it depends on “what the governor says and what the health situation is” moving forward into the season.

“Anything’s possible, but I hope we don’t have that happen,” Galligan said. “But if the numbers and the health concerns indicate it, then it will certainly be a fluid situation.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s senior official for infectious diseases, predicts the U.S. could see signs of herd immunity by late March or early April. LSU’s last home game is scheduled for March 2.