University of Utah will not institute vaccination, mask mandates at Rice-Eccles Stadium

The 24th-ranked Utes open Thursday evening against in-state FCS power Weber State, the first of six games this season at Rice-Eccles

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Games and booths are set up creating a party atmosphere, at the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center for those getting the Covid-19 at the Vaccination clinic at the University of Utah in June. The University of Utah will not require masks or proof of vaccination for football games this fall.

As the Utah athletic department prepares to host a crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time since Nov. 30, 2019, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan told The Salt Lake Tribune that Utah would not institute mask mandates, proof of vaccination, or proof of negative test in order for fans to enter.

As he has at various times throughout the pandemic, Harlan cited that the athletic department is subject to state laws.

To that end, Utah’s statewide mask mandate mostly ended in April. As for vaccines, there is a law on the books that blocks the state government from requiring people to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“What we’re going to do, what we’ve always done, is just encourage people to be as safe as they can, not only for themselves, but for others,” Harlan said. “We will be messaging masks as a great way to keep people as safe as they can, especially to our fans that will be in indoor sections of the stadium. We’re going to be talking about that quite a bit.

“As we have from the very beginning, since the vaccine was developed, we’re going to keep reminding people in the forums we have that vaccination is the way we can get out of this pandemic. We won’t be shy in reminding people of that.”

As of Friday afternoon, Thursday night’s opener vs. Weber State was not officially sold out, but that remains the expectation as capacity at Rice-Eccles jumps to 51,444 thanks to the completion of the Ken Garff Red Zone. Utah has sold out 64 consecutive home games dating back to the 2010 opener vs. Pitt.

Harlan’s comments came less than an hour before the University of Utah, Weber State and Utah State announced they will require students who attend in-person classes to get the vaccine.

As far as athletics goes, Harlan told The Tribune that his student-athlete vaccination rate as of Friday was 92%. Within that figure, football was at 94% and both basketball teams were already at 100%.

Whittingham has said multiple times this month that he expects his program vaccination rate to plateau at 95%, which would equate to six out of his 124 players being unvaccinated. That vaccination could now reach 100%, but the university is expected to release details of how vaccination exemptions will work early this week.

With college football season set to begin in earnest this weekend across the country, there are currently five FBS schools mandating either the vaccine or a negative test. Boston College became the latest on Friday, joining LSU, Oregon, Oregon State and Tulane.