© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hawkeye Football Season Kicks Off As Coronavirus Surges

Hawkeye football fans crowded into bars over the weekend to watch the team's first game in a season that had initially been cancelled due to the coronavirus.
Kate Payne
Hawkeye football fans crowded into bars over the weekend to watch the team's first game in a season that had initially been cancelled due to the coronavirus.

University of Iowa football fans crowded into bars over the weekend to watch the team play Purdue University, even as the coronavirus continues to flare across the state. It was the first game in a season that had previously been derailed due to the virus.

Fans crowded into bars in downtown Iowa City to watch the game. At times, lines at some establishments stretched out the door as young people waited to be let in, many wearing masks improperly and inadequately distancing from others.

Elsewhere in town, students held large house parties and at times dozens of people could be seen gathering in large groups in yards. Others pulled flatscreen TVs outside to watch in small groups.

These crowded, indoor social gatherings are concerning for Sam Jarvis, the community health manager for Johnson County Public Health.

“We recognize that there’s definitely a yearning and a desire to do normal again. And certainly many are happy to see football season return,” Jarvis said. “But again we really just want to reiterate that we’ve got to still keep those [public health] measures in place, and all those safe practices.”

The game, which the Hawkeyes lost 24 to 20, was the first in a season that had initially been canceled in August, due to concerns around the coronavirus pandemic. The Big Ten Conference reversed that decision in September, following pressure from fans, state lawmakers and President Donald Trump, even as the virus continues to rage across the Midwest and Mountain West.

Purdue Head Coach Jeff Brohm was not on the sidelines Saturday after he himself tested positive for COVID-19.

In a media availability held in the week before the game, Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz declined to tell reporters how many of his players had contracted the disease, though he allowed that the team is taking it more seriously now than they did earlier on in the pandemic.

“We’ve had our share of numbers. I won’t get too specific,” Ferentz said. “I think we also went through a period back in June, where for a lot of our players I’m not sure it seemed real, you know? And then we got some guys tested positive and all of a sudden it was real.”

Ferentz says players have since become much more “vigilant”. Under the Big Ten’s requirements for restarting the season, all players, coaches and staff receive daily antigen tests. Student athletes who do contract COVID-19 are then run through a battery of diagnostic tests and monitored by a cardiologist.

Long-term health effects from the virus, even for those who experience mild symptoms, remain little understood, and some patients experience debilitating symptoms long after they first became infected.

According to an analysis by the New York Times, as of Sunday morning, more than 224,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 and confirmed cases of the virus in the United States continue to far outnumber every other nation in the world.

Jarvis says it’s incredibly important for Iowans to continue to take precautions to slow the spread of the deadly virus, including wearing a mask when around others, maintaining 6 feet of distance, practicing hand hygiene and staying home when sick.

“For continuing on throughout the pandemic, but going into, whether its football season, flu season, colder weather, where persons are more than likely going to have to be indoors due to weather,” he said. “These are just still very important practices to put in place.”

The latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force found that 90 percent of Iowa counties were experiencing moderate or high levels of community transmission. Report authors urged Iowans in the hardest-hit areas to drastically limit their social interactions to only their immediate family members.

“In red and orange counties, both public and private gatherings should be as small as possible and optimally not extend beyond immediate family,” the report authors wrote.

Iowa hospitals are continuing to see a surge in COVID patients that is straining bed capacity and healthcare workers’ capabilities. According to the New York Times, the state’s death rate is twice that of the nation as a whole.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter