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UB home opener draws large crowd for first in-person game during the pandemic

The school's current safety standards required all fans to wear a mask. The reality was a different story.

AMHERST, N.Y. — As more and more large events return after a year and a half without them, balancing large crowds and COVID restrictions continue to be a challenge.

The University at Buffalo Bulls football home opener was the latest large-scale event in Western New York. So how did it go?

Well, the team continued right where they left off last season and blew out Wagner 69-7, scoring 38 unanswered points in the first half. That lead meant quite a few fans departed at halftime but after a year without watching their team in person, prior to halftime the stands were packed.

UB's current safety standards for large-scale events required that everyone attending the game be masked at all times, regardless of vaccination status, except when eating or drinking. Masks were provided by UB staff to those entering if they did not have one. Tickets were also all digital this year to reduce contact.

"I'm assuming they're going to be on people about keeping the masks on and above their nose and everything but I can't imagine social distancing will be too much," Freshman Griffin Angelo said before the game.

Angelo's prediction, from the sidelines at least, was half true social distancing with normal seating was non-existent but as for masks, rather than required, they appeared to be optional. Very few people could be seen consistently wearing them throughout the game, which according to several students hasn't been the case in class.

"Most people have been good about wearing masks. In my classes, professors have just caught kids you know walking in without one and they're like hey can you put a mask on and people have complied pretty easily," said Senior Mackenzie Smith.

Now it's important to note, that SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras told 2 On Your Side before the game, that as of Thursday the UB student body has a 99% vaccination rate, faculty and staff are 70% vaccinated and that's before SUNY's grace period to get a vaccine, has expired so they'll likely be higher in about a month.

When asked about safety procedures and whether the mask requirement would be enforced during the game Malatras said:

"I think our staff on campus will encourage people if they're not complying to mask up if they have to and there's... of course...penalties if you don't. Maybe they'll ask to be removed but we're not seeing a lot of that issue those issues on our campuses thus far. We've been open for about two weeks now all across the [SUNY] system."

A system in which the University at Buffalo is the largest school, so Thursday's football game may also serve as the best test for such masking policies statewide. And keep in mind the next time the UB Bulls return home on October 16th, the grace period for vaccination will have passed so the student body attending the game against Miami of Ohio could be 100% vaccinated.