Boise State scraps plan to require COVID-19 vaccine or negative test for football fans

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Boise State University has halted its plan to require fans to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19 or test negative for the coronavirus before attending a football game at Albertsons Stadium, the school announced in a news release Friday.

Idaho’s largest university by student population, with more than 22,000 enrolled, hit pause on its previous safety measures — announced a week prior, ahead of a Saturday home game — citing the on-campus vaccination and infection rates, and concerns about testing capacity in the community.

The campus vaccination rate is about 88%, based on a university survey. COVID-19 cases on campus have declined from 127 the week of Sept. 2 to 77 the week of Sept. 23.

However, the vast majority of the more than 35,000 people who attend Boise State football games come from off campus.

Boise State required proof of vaccination or a negative test for students only for the Sept. 18 game against Oklahoma State. It told fans to expect that policy to expand to the entire stadium for the Oct. 2 game against Nevada.

That changed Friday.

“In light of our declining campus positivity rates and high vaccination rates, the university will shift from testing all ticket holders in the student section to random sample testing of that population before next week’s football game,” the school said in a written statement.

The percentage of Idaho’s eligible population (12 and older) that is fully vaccinated is just 51.5%, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The university said it made the change to its COVID-19 policy for fans while maintaining “ongoing dialogue” with Gov. Brad Little’s office, in addition to the State Board of Education, Central District Health — the public health board for the region — and health care systems Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s.

The school’s test positivity rate over the past week was just above 3%, which represented a 46% drop, according to Boise State.

Boise State announced the policy change at about 5:30 p.m. Friday — just after a State Board of Education special meeting to consider the virus impact on education.

“This decision was made in consultation with the Idaho State Board of Education after seeking input from community partners,” Mike Sharp, Boise State spokesperson, told the Idaho Statesman.

Test positivity rates in the region are not nearly as good as at Boise State. Ada County had a rate of 14.1% the week ending Sept. 18 and Canyon County’s was 23.3%. The statewide positivity rate for that week was 16.4%.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a rate of greater than 5% indicates significant community spread.

Boise State cited a potential drain on testing capacity as one reason for its policy change.

“Because of COVID case rates in Idaho, testing capacity throughout the state remains strained,” the Boise State release said. “Given the limited capacity for testing, the university is prioritizing its capacity to test Idahoans who are symptomatic, at high risk of contracting COVID, or have had a known exposure. As a consequence, we will not require all ticket holders to provide a negative COVID test result to gain entry to the next home football game.”

The surge of COVID-19 cases in the Treasure Valley and Idaho continues to put strain on local hospitals, and pushed Idaho to move to statewide crisis standards of care last week, meaning health care providers may begin to ration care. St. Luke’s made the request for Health and Welfare to implement the crisis standards beyond the initial activation in North Idaho.

Idaho reported 1,134 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the past two weeks, according to a chart provided to the State Board of Education. Health and Welfare predicts the current surge won’t peak until mid-November, at 21,000 cases per week, or an average of 3,000 per day.

“I see no indication as of today that we are heading downward. We may be heading towards a plateau, which I’ll take over continual increases,” Dr. Kathryn Turner, Idaho deputy state epidemiologist, told the State Board of Education on Friday, according to a news release.

Boise State is still requesting that — as with any other large-scale public event during the ongoing pandemic — anyone stay home if they are feeling ill, were exposed to someone positive for the coronavirus in the past 14 days, or are at high risk for contracting COVID-19. At the very least, these individuals should receive a negative test result before making their way to campus, the university said.

The university also is asking that fans wear a face mask inside the stadium. A face covering rule has been in place for the first two homes games, but compliance has been lax.

Last week, Dr. Steven Nemerson, Saint Al’s chief clinical officer, reminded fans that they can make a choice simply to root on the Broncos from the safety of their own home as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread.

“People can select not to attend those events, even with a mask,” Nemerson said, “and people can also select to frequent businesses that practice COVID-safe behaviors.”

Boise State has had huge crowds for its two home games: 35,518 vs. UTEP and 36,702 vs. Oklahoma State.

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