Virginia Tech and the town of Blacksburg announced Tuesday that tailgating for football games is prohibited out of concerns the activity could increase the spread of COVID-19.
The announcement specifically prohibited tailgating on university or town parking lots as well as other public places, and instead asked Hokie fans to watch games while “homegating” with friends or family as a more safe alternative.
“Football weekends and tailgate gatherings are cherished traditions for Virginia Tech and our community,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in the announcement. “I appreciate the input and support of athletic director Whit Babcock and community leaders as we came to this difficult conclusion. Though it is disappointing for all of us as we look forward to fall football, protecting public health remains our primary goal, and the foundation of the decisions we make.”
The Tuesday decision was not one made quickly or without lots of discussion between Virginia Tech and Blacksburg officials.
“The town of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech have been in close conversation ever since the pandemic started,” Vice Mayor of Blacksburg Michael Sutphin said in an interview with The Virginia Star. “All throughout the summer there were conversations on how Blacksburg and the university was going to deal with fall football and athletics and all the events associated with it like tailgating.”
University and Blacksburg officials used statistics from the Virginia Tech and Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboards as a factor for the decision to prohibit tailgating and other ordinances, Sutphin said.
For the week ending Sunday, there were 157 positive tests and 855 negative tests at Virginia Tech, bringing the total positivity rate to 1.8 percent and the negativity rate to 98.2 percent, according to the Virginia Tech COVID-19 dashboard.
To further quell the spread of COVID-19 at Virginia Tech and in the surrounding community, and subsequently adding another way to stop large tailgates, the university announced it was limiting a gathering of students to 15 people while Blacksburg passed an ordinance that limits gathering of 50 people or more.
“Public gatherings, especially those in which people are not wearing face coverings and not physically distant, will significantly contribute to the spread of COVID-19,” Noelle Bissell, health director of the New River Valley Health District, said in the announcement. “Our community has been working diligently to preserve public health, and it is making a difference. This decision, while difficult, will help maintain our progress and prevent future outbreaks.”
Both Blacksburg and Virginia Tech police will be enforcing the policy on game days and students who are caught in violation on or off-campus will be referred to the university student conduct office, Sutphin said.
“No one wants to ban tailgating, but we need to take action to limit the spread of the virus,” Sutphin said.
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