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Fans return to bleachers as Friday night football comes back in Colorado

While masks are not required outdoors for many school districts, they will be for some at indoor sporting events.

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Fans made their way back to the bleachers Friday night at Jeffco Stadium as Longmont geared up for a high school football game against Chatfield.

“I’m just so glad the kids can play – they can get their parents, their family out here, students, it’s really a good thing," said Jennifer Markley, who was there cheering on her son, Adin.

Others described the moment as long-awaited, as students have had to deal with the pandemic during the last school year, restricting fans from watching games live.

With updated COVID-19 guidelines for many districts, the fans are back, and some parents told 9NEWS they felt safe being at the game, despite masks not being required.

“It’s great for everybody, not just for the athletes as well because they thrive off all the bleachers, and the yelling, all the screaming, all the cheering," said Jamal Haddad, who was cheering on his son who was playing for Chatfield.

Credit: Mat Gaskins
Fans gather at JeffCo Stadium Friday night.

What some school districts are doing

When it comes to outdoor sporting events, a majority of the school districts that responded to inquiries from 9NEWS said they would not require masks or limit capacity at certain venues.

At the game Friday, Patrick Simpson, Jeffco Public Schools' executive director of Athletics and Activities, explained over the phone that there were no capacity limits at the stadium and that masks were recommended, but not required.

For indoor sporting events, masks would be required by fans and athletes who weren't physically playing the sport, Simpson said.

A spokesperson for Denver Public Schools relayed a message from the athletic director via email. In a statement, the email read in part, "DPS coaches and staff will continue to emphasize the importance of social distancing, good hand hygiene, use of masks by all individuals when indoors, on transportation, and when interacting in group settings and staying home when sick or showing symptoms of COVID-19."

When it comes to capacity at stadiums, the email read in part, "Spectators will be allowed. We are limiting capacity for indoor sporting events at this time. At outdoor venues, spectators are not required to wear masks (unless moving indoors to use restrooms or access other facilities). However, current health and safety guidance recommends that individuals wear masks in crowded settings and maintain 6-feet of social distance. We ask that individuals who do not feel comfortable in larger crowds outdoors, or who do not want to wear masks for indoor events, should contact their school athletic director to ensure that they have access to available streaming options."

For Boulder Valley School District, a spokesperson said via email that there were no capacity limits, and neither spectators nor players have to wear masks. 

A Douglas County School District spokesperson cited the district's Looking Forward plan, which under the athletics and activities section states, "Athletics and activities will resume normal processes in 2021-2022 and will coordinate with CHSAA and governing bodies on COVID protocols."

St. Vrain Valley Schools said they would follow all CHSAA and Boulder County Health Requirements, which require masks indoors, but outdoors, at sporting events; though, masks were recommended indoors. 

Credit: Mat Gaskins
Fans line up at JeffCo Stadium Friday night to attend a football game between Longmont and Chatfield.

Urging Caution

Dr. Heather Rosely, an emergency medicine physician with UCHealth, who also has a background in sports medicine, said as of now, it would be hard to connect a spike in COVID-19 cases to outdoor sporting events, but the concern shouldn't be waved off.

"So I think the risk is definitely still there, especially in those who have chosen to not get vaccinated," she said. "I think we are still saying that there are chances of transmission in those that are vaccinated as well. So we don't quite know what that risk will be. Think the best thing we can do is try to encourage vaccination throughout the community and and those that are not vaccinated encourage masks and social distancing when possible."

Overall, she said she believes it's not a bad idea for people to wear masks or social distance at games but also that COVID-19 cases will have to be monitored when adjusting safety protocols as needed.

"What I'm encouraging with friends or family or patients is if you're not vaccinated, the risk of transmission is still fairly high at a crowded football game," she said. "And I think masking up is going to decrease that risk overall. I don't think it's going to make it zero. But I think if we can keep the transmission risk lower than what we're seeing and unmasked populations, I think that'll decrease the risk significantly."

RELATED: Here's a district-by-district breakdown of school mask and health procedures

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