When the Oklahoma Sooners kick off their season Saturday night against Missouri State, the stadium will feel empty, but nearby Campus Corner will not.
The University of Oklahoma is limiting attendance inside Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium to 25 percent of its 86,112 capacity, but one block away Norman’s Campus Corner entertainment district will experience bigger crowds and looser restrictions.
The Norman City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday night to allow bars, restaurants and outdoor patios to operate at 75 percent capacity on gamedays. Norman City Councilmember Kate Bierman, the only member to vote against the ordinance, said she believes Norman is “going backwards” in its handling of the pandemic.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends that bars should be closed and “indoor dining must be restricted to 50 percent of normal capacity in yellow zones and 25 percent of normal capacity in red zones.” Oklahoma is currently listed as a red zone state with more than 10 percent of Oklahomans screened for COVID-19 testing positive for the virus. Cleveland County has the third highest number of new infections in the state and is listed in the yellow zone with a positivity rate between 5-10 percent.
Bars around OU’s campus have been continuously packed since the arrival of students in mid-August. The previous Norman city code required patrons to wear masks and restaurants to arrange seating to promote social distancing. However, videos have appeared on social media in the past two weeks showing large numbers of Campus Corner visitors violating the masking policy.
To assist with social distancing on gameday, there will be picnic tables located on Asp Avenue and a jumbotron set up outside that will broadcast the pay-per-view broadcast of the game.
Once sooner fans step onto the Norman campus, masks are required in both indoor and outdoor venues including inside the stadium. Tailgating on campus is prohibited.
Norman City Manager Darrel Pyle emphasized that Norman and OU are closely coordinating their safety measures.
“We’ve got a group from our Emergency Operations Center who measure the [COVID-19 testing] data on a daily basis. We’re in regular communication with the folks at the University of Oklahoma, OU medical and Norman Regional Health to make sure everyone stays on the same page,” Pyle said. “We want to make sure… we can see the impact either successfully or unsuccessfully out of actions like last night’s adopted ordinance.”
Local churches, who for decades counted on income from selling gameday parking spaces, are bracing for the economic impact of the restrictions. However, there is no ordinance in place that would prohibit tailgating on private property, including churches.
“If people want to have cookouts in their yard, we have not implemented anything that would stop that from happening,” said Norman City Attorney Kathryn Walker.
During the Norman council meeting, several officials pointed out that there is a city ordinance already in place that restricts large off-campus parties. A house can be declared a public nuisance after three convictions within one year.
“People are going to come and enjoy what Norman does best, we just want to make sure we’re providing opportunities to do it safely,” Mayor Breea Clark said during the City Council special session. “The end goal [is] keeping our students here, our residents safe and our businesses open.”