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Several Penn students and fans in the audience did not wear or were incorrectly wearing their masks inside the Palestra during a volleyball game on Oct. 22.

Credit: Vanessa Huang

It’s a brisk, early October evening in Philadelphia. 

Ready to escape the intensive midterm season stress, Penn students flock down Locust Walk and onto 33rd Street with Franklin Field in sight.The blinding, yet warm, fluorescent lights illuminate the dark and carve out a path towards the historic stadium for an opening night football game.

For the second season in a row, Penn opens their season at home in a blowout loss against Dartmouth. 

You’d see the same 8,000 fans filling the stands, the same bright yellow uniforms of the Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC) event staff — the security hired to manage the games — and the same pieces of toast flying onto the field. 

Yet, the world of 2021 couldn’t be any more different than that of 2019. 

The last couple of years have given us a life immersed in a pandemic. It’s been a year now since the worst of COVID-19, but we’re still living in a world of precaution. 

Aside from the general campus-wide mask and vaccination policies — in which all members of the Penn community are required to be vaccinated and wear masks in all indoor shared spaces — Penn’s Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics (DRIA) have also implemented their own policies.

“All spectators in attendance (12 years old and above) must attest to having been vaccinated and register their contact information in the event of a COVID exposure where follow-up from contact tracing is needed,” stated the DRIA in an Aug. 27 announcement. 

While it’s expected that guests be vaccinated in accordance with Penn’s general campus policy, the DRIA has taken COVID-19 safety a step further by ensuring that fans submit an attestation form online. Fans must show their completed form to a Penn representative when entering the sports venue. 

But for some, when fans navigate to complete the form online, they are prevented from attesting to the guidelines. Instead, the website reads, “RSVPs for this game will be accepted beginning at 12:00am on [game day] and end at the conclusion of the game,” despite the form being open for others.

Unable to find a solution to this issue, the Penn representatives checking for attestation forms at the gate accept Green PennOpen Passes as an alternative. But, family members of players and fans of opposing teams — who can’t register under Penn OpenPass — are simply turned away."

Penn event representatives declined to comment on difficulties with the attestation form.

In addition to the event attestation RSVP, Penn requires that fans wear face coverings at all indoor and outdoor competition venues. Social distancing is also enforced when possible. 

The CDC currently says that people generally do not need to wear a mask outside. Still, Penn has a mask mandate for outdoor sporting events, at least in name. For reference, the Philadelphia Eagles do not require masks outdoors at games, but all Ivy League schools do. 

Some students find comfort in this system in place to protect the Penn community.

“I think the [COVID attestation] makes sense,” College junior Albi Domi said. “People should wear masks at the games so we don’t spread Covid anymore.”

In reality, while the Penn spectators generally follow the attestation rules indoors, they hardly comply with any of the fall event “requirements” at outdoor venues.

“My parents were here last week for a football game, and they felt like they should be wearing masks,” said a Penn senior who requested to remain anonymous. However, given the lack of other fans following the mask mandate, the Penn senior and his parents opted to go maskless. This can be partly attributed to the event staff's lack of enforcement.

Even the CSC event staff take a rather laissez-faire stance on Penn’s official policy.

“We’re a bit farther into the pandemic now,” a CSC event staff member said at a Penn football game. “A lot of people are vaccinated and a lot of people wear masks, so I wouldn’t get too much into enforcing social distancing unless I’m told by my supervisor to maintain six feet between fans.”

Penn students have also recognized the lack of COVID-19 protocol enforcement.

“I think it’s particularly ridiculous that Penn makes announcements about wearing masks,” the Penn senior said. “I’ve never seen a person around [the games] saying anything about masks.”

Many of the event staff members rely more on their personal judgment than the official Penn event guidelines.

“You guys have masks, you guys can be vaccinated or not, [the lack of] social distancing doesn’t bother me, personally,” another CSC staff member added.

Asked for comment on the issue, the Penn Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics issued the following statement to The DP: 

"DRIA spectator guidance for all home intercollegiate contests aligns with the University’s visitor policy. All spectators entering a DRIA facility must attest to being fully vaccinated and complete a daily symptom check through PennOpen Pass or PennOpen Campus. Since this is performed efficiently at facility entrances by Public Health Ambassador staff there is no longer the need to 'rsvp' for athletic events. Public Health Ambassador staff also make sure spectators are arriving at the facility with a mask, and wearing it upon entry. If a spectator arrives at an entrance without a mask, one is issued. After entering an outdoor facility, spectators may remove masks for eating or drinking or based on their own comfort level. DRIA does not utilize staff or security to enforce mask compliance in outdoor seating sections based on risk level and spectator experience. Social distancing is recommended when possible (depending on seating capacity and attendance volume) but not mandatory. DRIA also reminds spectators not to attend an event if feeling sick."

And for most in the stands, the close proximity doesn’t bother them. 

“I don’t mind going to a game without masks or social distancing,” freshman Ben Chen said. “I would feel safer if more people were masked, but with the majority of the community being vaccinated, it’s not a dealbreaker for me.”

When the level of compliance ultimately falls under each fan’s own discretion, the reality translates to maskless sporting events.

As winter sports are just getting underway, Penn Athletics has released a new set of guidelines for the upcoming season, which will predominantly feature indoor play.

"All fans are required to wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth at all times upon entering, and throughout an indoor competition venue, except when removing intermittently for eating and drinking," the DRIA announced on Oct. 29.

It will be interesting to see how the shift toward indoor competition affects rates of mask-wearing.

Perhaps people are just itching to get back to the normalcy of 2019, a time when a stroll down to a Franklin Field home opener was unbothered by the worry of a pandemic.