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Around 80,000 fans expected at Neyland Stadium for first Vols home game, with minimal COVID-19 restrictions

Health experts said people can still contract COVID-19, even if they are outside during an event.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The first home game at Neyland Stadium is on Thursday. As people prepare to cheer the Vols, some are worried that the University of Tennessee does not have enough COVID-19 safety measures in place.

They are not limiting the number of people who can attend the game and are not requiring masks. Attendees will also not need to prove if they are vaccinated or provide a negative COVID-19 test.

UT Chancellor Donde Plowman said that university officials want people to do what is best for them. They are only encouraging masks on game day but will require them on shuttle buses. Officials are also asking fans not to do hugs, high-fives and handshakes and to stay on the sidewalk during the Vol Walk. 

“That is an outdoor event, and we are going to encourage people to take whatever precautions they feel comfortable with,” said Plowman.

Officials said around 80,000 tickets have been sold for the first home game of the season.

Dr. William Smith from UT Medical Center said just being outside doesn't mean people are safe from contracting COVID-19, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In a stadium, you are sitting close to other people. And within their guidelines, it would be recommended that you wear a mask,” said Dr. Smith. 

The Vols are scheduled to play against the Bowling Green Falcons. Fans from UT are known for their team spirit with screams, chants and calls from the stands.

Yet, Dr. Smith said yelling and cheering without a face covering puts people in danger. 

“Being in crowds and yelling and screaming does increase your risk of exposure,” he said. 

And as the Delta variant spreads more quickly than the flu, Dr. Smith said people should highly consider face coverings even when outside — even if they are vaccinated. 

Plowman said they are expecting people to come with and without face coverings. 

“I am sure there will be people there who wear masks and people that don’t,” said Plowman.