Allowing full capacity at AISD events is wrong

As we’re enduring one of the worst bouts of COVID Austin has experienced to date, now is not the time to be reopening school functions and sports games to full capacity


Dave Winter

The McCallum student section at the 2021 Taco Shack Bowl game. Capacity was not restricted, and while the stadium policy required masks, not everyone wore them.

Logan Davis, staff reporter

The annual Taco Shack Bowl. A yearly tradition in which McCallum and Anderson battle it out for glorious bragging rights in their first varsity game of the season. The stands are packed, students from each side roaring in support of their respective teams – but is now the time for spectators to return? 

Throughout the entire pandemic, attendance at almost all events throughout AISD has been very limited. Sports games were limited to just parents/family, usually 1-2 people per player or 25% total capacity, and they were all distanced from each other and masked. Theater productions, a big crowd-drawer especially here at Mac had been either virtual or on the outside stage, also with limited attendance. These safety measures have been crucial in keeping our faculty and students safe and our schools open. At the beginning of this school year though, that all changed. 

As of Aug 23, 2021, all AISD policy allowed sports games, home and away, theatre shows, and other functions to operate at 100% capacity.

This is possibly the worst time to reopen. Austin is currently experiencing some of, if not the highest new cases per day that we’ve ever gained. This time last school year, Travis County was averaging around 100 or fewer new COVID-19 cases per day. Now? It’s over 500. With such a drastic increase in transmission, why is it now that the district has chosen to reopen, and create further opportunities for COVID to spread?


Data visualization showing the drastic increase in student cases since the first day of school this year. For reference, the peak of new cases per week in November of 2020 was 36. Graphic by Logan Davis, data from Austin ISD COVID Dashboard.

To give our school district some credit, they have made an effort to have people wear masks in the crowd. However, you run into some issues here too. In a setting such as a musical production, masks are easy to enforce. You could have one or two people in the front of the room scanning the entire crowd to see if everyone’s nose and mouth are covered. But at an event like a football game? There are hundreds if not thousands of kids, all outside, spread throughout stands in a high-energy setting with very few teachers. It becomes an honors system of whether the student chooses to wear their mask or not, and not a very reliable one. 

Aside from the case count, we’re facing another major threat right now. The Delta variant. According to the CDC, the Delta variant is over twice as transmissible as other variants of COVID-19 that we’ve faced in the past. It’s similar in severity, however, the R0 (an indicator in epidemiology meant to predict the cases spread from one individual to others) of Delta is 5-8, as opposed to 2-4 of the previous Alpha variant. Especially in these large, dense crowds, this puts many more people at risk than ever before. Even outside, it’s still dangerous. 


Short graphic explaining what an R0 number is, and comparing between the Alpha variant of 2020 and the current Delta variant. Graphic by Logan Davis, data from CDC.

In short, now is not the time that we should be going back out. The reason that we were even able to return to school in person this year is that we were patient, we stayed home and kept out masks. Though it’s each person’s decision to say, go to the football game, and it’s their decision of whether or not they’re going to wear a mask or if they’re going to get vaccinated, I’d implore everyone to be smart and safe. Sports games aren’t going to be the same without students cheering along from the sidelines. Theatre productions aren’t going to be the same without the laughing, crying, and clapping of the audience. But not much right now is the same. AISD students are experiencing over 300% higher exposures and new cases right now. We all need to mask up and carefully consider the events we go to, lest we all have to go back on Zoom.