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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: More Than Just Footballs In The Air

UGA football stadium
Bank of America Stadium likely will not be as crowded as this 2011 UGA game for this week's Georgia-Clemson matchup, but it will be the most crowded football game Tommy Tomlinson's been to during the pandemic.

This Saturday night, here in Charlotte, my University of Georgia Bulldogs play Clemson in the spotlight game of college football’s first big weekend.


A group of us who went to UGA together have been waiting for this game since the day it was announced. Friends are coming in from Florida and Indiana and Arizona. We’ll be part of a crowd of 75,000 people crammed shoulder-to-shoulder to root on our team.

I’ve been looking forward to it being one of the best days of the year. But now there’s a low note of dread under it, like the music in a horror movie, because of COVID-19.

My friends and I are vaccinated, and we plan to follow Bank of America Stadium’s policy and wear masks in covered areas of the stadium, like the concession stands and restrooms. The game itself is outdoors, and the science shows that COVID doesn’t transmit as well in the open air. But unlike a growing number of venues across the country, the stadium isn’t requiring any evidence of vaccination to enter.

The evidence about what works outdoors is mixed. For example, COVID-19 cases in South Dakota spiked last year and again this year after the Sturgis biker rally, where masks were encouraged but not required. And there doesn’t appear to be a surge in cases after the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, where everyone who attended had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. But people came to those events from everywhere, and without good contact tracing, there’s no good way to tell just how safe or unsafe any particular event turns out to be.

The one thing that seems clear is that the delta variant of COVID-19 makes it more likely that even vaccinated people can transmit the virus or even get sick from it.

High school football season has started down here. Carol Sawyer, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member, saw a photo of unmasked kids jammed together at a Providence High game. It made her wonder if the school system should take some sort of action: require masks in the stands, spread students out, or even limit capacity at the games.

Nobody wants another sports year like the one we just had, where games were canceled and whole seasons were canceled and the teams who did play often had no fans in the stands. But here’s what we should want even less: a repeat of the last school year, where students spent most of their days stuck at home because COVID-19 was out of control.

Guess what: COVID-19 is pretty much out of control again. Nationwide, more than 100,000 people are in the hospital with the virus, according to federal statistics. That’s the most since January, when the vaccine wasn’t readily available. That’s the result of the delta variant, plus the refusal of millions of Americans to take the most basic precautions to keep themselves and their neighbors safe.

One of the great things about sports is how it can lift you above your worries for a while. I’m sure we’ll have a good time at the game. But we’ll also protect ourselves the best we can. And when something great happens and everybody cheers, I’ll be thinking about those droplets in the air.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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