Images of the crowd at the Georgia-Auburn football game on Oct. 3 in Sanford Stadium have gained attention and drawn social media criticism for a lack of social distancing in the student section and fans not wearing masks.

The official announced crowd in Sanford Stadium on Saturday was 20,524 people. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 20-25% of the stadium’s full capacity of 92,746 is permitted per University of Georgia Athletic Association guidelines, meaning the highest capacity mathematically allowed this season would be 23,186.

The SEC released guidelines on Aug. 18 stating: “Face coverings (over the nose and mouth) shall be required as a condition of all guest ingress, egress and movement throughout the stadium, as well as any time guests are unable to maintain the recommended physical distance from others who are not in their same household or among the individuals seated in their ticketed group.”

Claude Felton, UGA senior associate athletic director, said in an email masks are not required when fans are sitting in their assigned “pods” of two or four people. The pods are marked with red Georgia seatbacks throughout the bleachers.

When entering and exiting the stadium or using restrooms and concessions, masks are required, abiding with SEC guidelines. 

In a preseason Sanford Stadium tour on Sept. 23, senior deputy athletic director Josh Brooks said because it wasn’t possible to distribute student section tickets based on roommates or close contacts, it would be the students’ responsibility to sit or stand with whom they feel safest.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a high risk of contracting COVID-19 at large, in-person gatherings where it is hard for people to social distance and when attendees travel from outside the local area. This includes outdoor sporting events, according to the CDC. COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, yell, cough or sneeze.

Reactions to Sanford Stadium social distancing 

Comments on Twitter criticized pictures and videos of fans, suggesting that social distancing measures were ignored. Georgia fans in the student section did not appear to be 6 feet apart in many of the shots shown during the ESPN broadcast on TV. 

The Red & Black observed multiple event security and staff members separating groups and escorting people out of the stadium who continuously violated the assigned seating arrangements. The Red & Black also observed a police officer asking an attendee to keep their mask on when walking in the aisle at the stadium. 

The crowds raised a concern for people on Twitter about a possible rise in COVID-19 cases following the crowds at the game. As of press time, there are 5,198 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Athens-Clarke County.