Football season is here, and while the COVID-19 outbreak remains a public health concern in Columbia, South Carolina, football fans would be better off skipping the tailgating this fall.
It may be difficult to abstain from such a longstanding and fun tradition, especially in South Carolina, where the tailgating is renowned among SEC schools. But health professionals and authorities are convinced that tailgating could be more trouble than it’s worth for those at risk of COVID-19 infection.
Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Buffalo, told local Buffalo news that tailgating could be “an extraordinarily bad idea."
"This virus is very, very infectious, and its spread occurs when individuals are interacting in close quarters. When people get excited and shout, that increases respiratory secretions, which is the mode of spread,” Russo said.
It might seem that there are closer quarters than a football tailgate – after all, everyone is parked in their own spot, and for the most part, tailgates take place outdoors. But that many people congregated in one place is a hazard regardless. Fans will be socializing, sharing food and drinks, waiting in line at vendors and frequently walking past thousands, in addition to potentially being only a parking spot away from other large groups.
The South Carolina athletics website says “tailgating, including grills, coolers and large buffet-style spreads, is discouraged." USC is essentially guaranteeing that tailgating occurs at Williams-Brice Stadium this fall by neglecting to prohibit it.
It’s possible that people will be even more inclined to tailgate this season compared to previous seasons. Fans who can’t attend every game like they normally would are going to want some form of game day experience, and you don’t need to buy a ticket to tailgate. The stadium’s reduced capacity might very well drive displaced patrons into the surrounding parking lots on Saturdays, increasing the likelihood of large gatherings, shared surfaces and numerous other public health risks.
University policies similar to USC’s, where tailgating is “discouraged” and not explicitly banned, have prompted health professionals to offer some wisdom and safety tips to those who inevitably do choose to tailgate this season, regardless of local rules or regulations.
Les White, director of public health for Story County, Iowa, had a few words of advice for potential tailgaters. White urged tailgaters to “wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, have hand sanitizer handy and avoid sharing utensils, drinks and vapes.”
Generally, taking every precaution you normally would to prevent infection is just as, if not more, important if you choose to tailgate this fall.
“If you are sick, stay at home and if someone at your gathering isn’t feeling well, tell them to leave and go home,” White said.
Football will be different this season, no doubt. If no improvement is seen with the COVID-19 situation in South Carolina, please, skip the tailgating this fall — and if you can’t help yourself, take care to do it safely, so that Gamecock football doesn’t turn into a hospital visit or worse.