By Lauren Haffner
For The Diamondback

As he looked around the packed student section at the first Maryland football game, Leo Petrucci felt grateful to finally have the college experience he had been missing.

Like many students, the sophomore enrolled in letters and sciences was not on campus last year because of the pandemic. Petrucci attended the game with friends and said he was happy when he learned there would be a full crowd.

“Maryland has lived up to its expectations, from the parties, football games, Marathon and more, the whole experience has been worth it,” Petrucci said. “A lot of COVID sophomores would feel the same way, as everyone is finally getting the real college experience we were looking for.”

For some students, football games mark the return of an exciting element of the college experience they have been craving, despite lingering concerns about the coronavirus.

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Despite not reaching full capacity, the football games have been in high attendance. Maryland Stadium’s capacity is over 51,500 fans. The first game against West Virginia had the largest turn out of the season so far with 43,811 fans in the stands.

Terrapin Athletics announced the decision to return to full capacity for all games in May. The announcement came when some restrictions for Prince George’s County were lifted.

“The ability to obviously have all of these activities go on make us a better campus environment for everybody,” said university President Darryll Pines in a Sept. 22 interview. “They missed their sports, they missed their peers, they missed a lot of things.”

Provost Jennifer Rice encouraged instructors to consider switching to remote learning on Oct. 1 for the Iowa game, which is expected to bring increased traffic to the university. The announcement did not cite the coronavirus as a reason to switch to remote learning.

Junior geographic information sciences major Avi Grant was home last school year because of the pandemic and said he enjoys being back in person, particularly to show off his Maryland pride at the football games.

Still, Grant was aware that the football game was happening during a pandemic and brought his mask to the game.

“It definitely seemed more normal but there were still some signs of masks, like I wore one,” Grant said.

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While masks are required for indoor spaces at the football stadium, vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks outdoors.

Sophomore information sciences major Eesha Kaul also stayed home last school year. Kaul attended the game with friends and said she does have some regrets about not wearing a mask.

“I was surprised that most people in the stadium were not wearing masks. I thought there would be more,” Kaul said. “In hindsight, it was kind of a bad idea to not wear a mask in a crowded stadium, with people coming from all sorts of different places and with the spread of the COVID variants, no matter if you’re unvaccinated or vaccinated.”

From Sept. 19 to Sept. 25, there were 31 positive cases from this university’s administered tests. As of Tuesday, 98.1 percent of the campus population is fully vaccinated, according to this university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The rest of the home games are scheduled to remain at full capacity. Pines said there has been minimal transmission of the coronavirus linked to any full-capacity events.

Pines also noted that despite campus being three-to-five times more dense this semester, there were three times as many cases last fall.

“It is really incredible that we are where we are, and everybody probably wishes they could be where we are,” Pines said.