Mayors of Big Ten college communities ask conference to consult local health officials

Maryland Stadium sits empty on Sept. 14, 2020. The Big Ten football season is set to start on Oct. 23 and the Terps will play their first home game on Oct. 30. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Mayors of Big Ten college communities across the country signed a letter Tuesday urging the conference to take practical measures that ensure communities can combat the spread of COVID-19 amid the football season. 

The letter — which was signed by nearly every Big Ten college community mayor, including College Park’s Patrick Wojahn — asked the Big Ten Conference to work with local health officials to discern when university communities are safe to host football games. 

“While we appreciate our college and university sports programs and the economic and community benefits that they provide, the COVID-19 crisis is far from over and we are expecting some potential new obstacles as a result of the upcoming football season,” East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens said in a press release. East Lansing is home to Michigan State University. 

The letter comes after the Big Ten Conference’s announcement last month that its football season would begin Oct. 23. The University of Maryland will begin its campaign Oct. 24, with an away game against Northwestern University. 

Although Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday that outdoor sporting venues in the state can now operate at 10 percent capacity, the Big Ten Conference has said since September that no fans will be allowed at football games. 

But even so, Wojahn and the other mayors are still concerned about the activities that football games generate. Social gatherings and alcohol consumption, for example, are tied to an increased spread of COVID-19, the letter states. 

The mayors asked the Big Ten Conference to work with local and county health officials to define a community population positivity rate that would indicate it is no longer safe to host a football game there. 

“Please include the communities where you will be holding games in your conversations and assign a metric to this that is similar to what has already been laid out for your teams,” the letter requested. “[S]imilar standards being applied to the communities this will affect is necessary to keep people safe.”

In the past 14 days, this university has reported 93 new cases — a combination of university-administered and self-reported tests. Prince George’s County saw 694 new cases in the week of Oct. 4, amounting to a positivity rate of 3.7 percent. 

The letter additionally requested that the Big Ten Conference release game time details as soon as possible and avoid hosting games during evenings or late afternoons, since those are the times “associated with increased activity.” 

The Terps will have their first home game on Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. against the University of Minnesota. 

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