UTEP, Locomotive FC can continue to host fans despite new city restrictions

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EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – With a record 717 new cases of COVID-19 recorded in El Paso on Thursday, Mayor Dee Margo issued new coronavirus restrictions, which included the prohibition of fans at outdoor sporting events and gathering sizes to less than 10 people.

However, according to the city, that ruling does not apply to collegiate or professional sporting events, meaning UTEP football and El Paso Locomotive FC can continue to host spectators.

The Miners and Locos each have home games on Saturday, Oct. 17, and told KTSM on Thursday afternoon that they will, indeed, host fans.

“City guidance does not prohibit fans from coming to the Sun Bowl this weekend, in large part because the UTEP Athletic Department and UTEP fans have shown that we can do this safely,” UTEP president Dr. Heather Wilson said in a statement. The Miners have had two home games so far in 2020, host fans at both of them.

The Miners will play Southern Miss at 5:30 p.m. Saturday night at Sun Bowl Stadium; Locomotive FC will welcome New Mexico United to Southwest University Park for the USL Championship’s Western Conference Semifinals. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Both teams have exemptions from the city to host large gatherings and have been hosting fans over the last few months, with both stadiums at less than 20% capacity and with strict precautions. The maximum amount of fans permitted at UTEP games is around 8,600; Locomotive FC can welcome just over 1,600 fans, socially distanced around the ballpark.

“We’ve had stringent protocols from the moment we allowed fans in, and those protocols have been maintained throughout all the games we’ve had,” Locomotive FC general manager Andrew Forrest said. “We’ve followed CDC guidelines and the advice of doctors and local officials we’ve consulted, so I think that’s why we are allowed to continue to host fans.”

Locomotive FC players and coaches are being tested weekly for COVID-19 and have not had any positive tests since the season restarted in July. UTEP tests its athletes three times per week, per Conference USA protocols.

UTEP officials said that temperature checks will be done at the entry gates of the Sun Bowl, and masks and social distancing will be heavily enforced. The Miners say they had very few issues with that at the first two home games.

UTEP is also asking students, faculty and staff that plan to attend Saturday’s game against Southern Miss to get tested for COVID-19 at one of the free testing locations on campus.

“We carefully monitored compliance and results of previous events and there was no evidence of community spread attributed to these outdoor, masked, socially distant, low-density attendance games,” President Wilson said with regards to UTEP’s first two games.

As virus numbers have skyrocketed, Forrest told KTSM that there was some pause with regards to welcoming fans this weekend, and the club understands the concern of El Pasoans. However, Locomotive FC still feels comfortable with its health and safety policies.

“We are comfortable with the amount of people we allow into the building, which is under 20%, I think around 17%,” Forrest said. For reference, the Sun Bowl capacity is set at 18%. “We have not changed pricing or tried to add more seating because safety is of utmost concern to us. I think we’ve proven, eight games is a large enough sample size, that we can host a game effectively and safely.”

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