CEDAR FALLS – Upon further review, attendance at this weekend’s state high school football playoffs will be limited to 2,400 fans per game — 15% of the UNI-Dome’s capacity.
Tickets already purchased are still good for their assigned games. UNI is sending ticket links to participating schools to ensure players’ close family members will be able to purchase tickets if they have not already done so. Walk-up tickets will no longer be available for any of the semifinals or finals.
This latest change was made in response to rising COVID-19 case numbers in Black Hawk County.
The current plan was put in place following a Wednesday meeting arranged by University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook. Representatives from the Iowa Department of Education and Governor’s Office joined Black Hawk County health and UNI officials in the discussions.
“We’re taking these additional steps today to further protect our campus and community,” Nook said, in a statement released by the school Wednesday night. “As the longstanding host site for the state football championships, we also recognize our responsibility for the health and safety of our campus and the general public.”
UNI suspended ticket sales Wednesday while working on the plan. UNItix online sales were reactivated Wednesday night.
On Tuesday, the IHSAA had announced it would be sticking with its original plan to seat pods of up to six fans in a diamond social distancing pattern capable of accommodating nearly 7,000 per game.
According to Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, Black Hawk County Health Department director, that plan was put in place before cases of COVID-19 spiked locally and statewide, pushing hospitals to the breaking point.
“Our responsibility is to help any business sector in terms of mitigating the spread of COVID,” Egbuonye said Tuesday. “We review plans. We review seating charts. We give feedback and recommendations.
“When this plan was put into place it was way before our numbers started. If that’s something we need to re-evaluate, we can definitely do that. If that’s something that they’re open to then, yes, we can definitely look at that.”
By Tuesday afternoon, Nook reached out to Egbuonye before Wednesday’s larger meeting.
“We’re happy to partner with UNI and appreciate the steps they’re taking in response to rising coronavirus case numbers here and across the state,” Egbuonye said in Wednesday’s statement. “We urge everyone traveling here for the playoffs to wear masks and remain socially distanced.”
Black Hawk County’s 14-day positive testing rate sits at 25.7% with an average of 162 new daily cases over that stretch. Iowa’s seven-day COVID-19 average of daily new cases is 4,351. Two weeks ago, that daily average was under 1,000.
The city of Cedar Falls previously sent a letter to qualifying schools, reminding all participants and families of precautions in place to ensure a safe visit – that includes a mask mandate when social distancing is not possible. Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation Tuesday that limits those visiting restaurants to groups of eight or smaller.
Beyond the thousands of visitors Cedar Falls anticipates this weekend, Eguonye pointed out Tuesday that she was alarmed by the virus spread within the community.
“I’m very concerned,” Egbuonye said. “I’m concerned about even when people are not coming into Black Hawk County with the level of community spread that we are seeing.
“My hope is that, whether it’s visitors or residents, that people do the right thing by masking, socially distancing, frequently washing their hands and also prioritizing. This is really the time to spend time with immediate family. Attending and encountering more people, you’re also at risk.”
Egbuonye says now is not the time for people to relax.
“We’re seeing where people have COVID fatigue, and this is not the time for people to be tired of COVID,” Egbuonye said. “This is a time to be vigilant because we want to make sure we protect as many lives as possible and ensure that our community stays healthy.”