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Bryan Ain’t Lyin: Irresponsible COVID-19 policies ‘Pack Pauley’ instead of classrooms

Fans await tipoff before a UCLA men’s basketball game prior to the pandemic. The near-14,000 capacity Pauley Pavilion will be open to all spectators for the Bruins’ matchup against No. 3 Arizona on Tuesday – a week before UCLA’s return to in-person instruction. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Bryan Palmero

Jan. 25, 2022 3:23 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 26 at 8:56 a.m.

Twenty-five days into the new year, classrooms are cleared out for another week.

Stuck behind a computer screen, students must remain online to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as UCLA guided them to do.

While they can’t attend a fully masked 442-person-maximum classroom setting, these same students will be able to “Pack Pauley” and be one of the nearly 14,000 spectators for the UCLA men’s basketball game against Arizona on Tuesday evening.

When the blue and gold’s early December matchup versus Washington was canceled because of COVID-19 protocols within the Huskies’ program, it eerily foreshadowed the fate of Bruin teams and students across campus.

Soon after, more contests were called off, with some even canceled outright. Outbreaks, including more than 10 positive tests in the men’s basketball program, put multiple UCLA teams on pause. With cases of the omicron variant steadily rising in Los Angeles County, the school’s administration eventually announced a return to remote instruction for the first two weeks of winter quarter, later extending the initial period by a fortnight.

After UCLA Athletics scaled back its attendance policy to only allow families of team members to indoor athletic competitions through Jan. 21, it appeared the school and its athletic department were on the same page.

But not for long.

Once Jan. 21 rolled around, the program announced in a statement that it had lifted all restrictions on indoor spectator attendance, marking a return to fan-filled athletic competitions on campus with over a week to go before in-person classes resume.

Ahead of the return to in-person instruction Jan. 31, UCLA will host a pair of men’s volleyball matches at the John Wooden Center in addition to five indoor athletics competitions held at Pauley Pavilion. The policy reinstatement came just in time for the men’s basketball matchup against No. 3 Arizona.

The phrase “Pack Pauley” is an oft-repeated saying made in reference to filling the near-14,000 capacity Pauley Pavilion with fans. In the midst of 25,784 new COVID-19 cases in LA County on Monday, packing Pauley seems like a recipe for disaster that even UCLA Athletics has foreshadowed.

“While we’re excited to welcome fans back, all spectators must continue to wear a face mask when not actively eating or drinking,” the program said in a written statement. “Failure to comply with wearing a face mask may result in future competitions without fans.”

Given UCLA Athletics’ track record, Tuesday’s impending game brings about a sense of uncertainty as to whether the program is adequately prepared for such a contest.

Just three months prior, a mob of students formed outside Pauley Pavilion before the Bruins’ top-five matchup against then-No. 4 Villanova, a game which had an attendance of 13,659 people.

[Related: Students fear for safety, express concern over conditions to enter Pauley Pavilion]

The possibility of packed crowds and stampedes happening again Tuesday is, at the least, not productive to preventing the spread of a virus in one of its most contagious stages.

Since that incident, athletic director Martin Jarmond vowed to increase the number of gameday staff and improve line control. Ahead of Tuesday’s contest, UCLA Athletics will enact preventative measures such as opening doors an additional 30 minutes before tipoff and increased enforcement of the mask policy, according to the Los Angeles Times.

However, these policies are simply laughable when a mob of fans can eat or drink all they want with their masks off. The reinstatement is a blatant cash grab as it coincides with the biggest conference matchup of the season. It’s hypocritical when some lectures and discussions with fully masked students at a fraction of the game’s capacity are deciding to stay remote.

Students in classrooms and spectators are subject to inconsistent standards in more ways than one, with the latter not required to be fully vaccinated with a booster dose if eligible either.

But the policy doesn’t need to be all or nothing. UCLA could very well limit attendance to half capacity like its crosstown rival USC. It’s a middle ground between sacrificing the bottom line in the interest of public health. The program could cut the sale of concessions too, giving fans no need to potentially further expose each other to the virus.

One might point to the rest of the sports world, in which indoor events are currently being held at greater frequency and capacity than here in Westwood.

But those teams aren’t affiliated with the No. 1 hospital in California, one of the states currently being hit the hardest with COVID-19 in terms of total numbers. Those events aren’t tied to the responsibility of being the No. 1 public academic institution in the country, a university still yet to bring back in-person instruction for a community of over 45,000 students and 7,000 faculty members.

In his second year at the helm, Jarmond wields the power to make a socially responsible decision.

But that would make too much sense and not enough cents.

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Bryan Palmero | Sports senior staff
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student at UCLA.
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student at UCLA.
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