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UT-Austin says it will require only student ticket holders to test negative for COVID-19 before Saturday’s football game
By Stacy Fernandez
Officials at the University of Texas at Austin said Wednesday night that students with football season tickets will be required to take a COVID-19 test on Friday and test negative before they can attend Saturday's season opener against the University of Texas at El Paso.
But the same precautions won't be required of thousands of other fans in the stands thus Saturday. There is no testing requirement for fans who aren't UT-Austin students, nor is there a requirement for visitors from El Paso. And not all UT-Austin students are required to be tested — only those who buy "The Big Ticket" season package are subject to the tests, but students who purchase individual game tickets are exempt, said J.B. Bird, a UT-Austin spokesperson.
The mandatory pre-game tests will be provided by the university for free. Students will have from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to get tested on campus Friday, according to the university athletics website.
University officials did not immediately respond to questions about why testing only applied to students.
Students, however, were not required to test negative before returning to campus or attending in-person classes.
The Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium where the game will be held holds a little over 100,000 people, but capacity for the game will be limited to about 25,000 fans. Meanwhile, outdoor gatherings in Austin are still limited to 10 people or less. Gov. Greg Abbott, however, allowed Texas sports to resume with limited fans in the stands.
Austin officials have repeatedly voiced concerns about the public health effects of hosting such a large gathering at this time."Our gathering limit is 10, and having 25,000 people in one space is a concern," Mark Escott, Austin Public Health's interim health authority, said at a press conference Wednesday morning.
Game attendees must wear masks, there will be marking for social distance and tailgates will not be allowed. The university also added 225 hand sanitizer stations throughout the stadium.
Wednesday, the university reported three coronavirus clusters in a university dorm with about 100 positive cases collectively.
Earlier this week, Baylor University and Louisiana Tech University postponed their opening game due to a spike in coronavirus cases following Hurricane Laura, according to a university statement. Texas Christian University also postponed its season opener against Southern Methodist University. Both games were scheduled for Saturday.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
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Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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