Is Louisiana mask mandate consistently enforced at Cajundome for UL basketball games?

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Prior to UL’s 2020-21 basketball season, the Ragin’ Cajuns athletic department shared the Cajundome’s guidelines for fans attending home games.

All are COVID-19 related pandemic safety measures. One was deemed a requirement: “Fans will be required to wear face coverings at all times while in the stadium with the exception of when eating or drinking.”

When the Ragin’ Cajuns beat LSU Alexandria on Tuesday night in front of an audience of about 350 spectators, visual evidence showed roughly half of the fans in the stands, maybe more, not wearing masks, even when not eating or drinking.

Fans were spread out in the arena, mostly in its lower bowl, and other social distancing measures were in place throughout the 12,363-seat venue. But mask wearing didn’t seem to be a priority for many of them.

But is the requirement really a requirement?

According to order of the office of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health, it is: “Every individual in Louisiana shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial establishment or other building or space open to the public, whether indoor or outdoor.”

Is the mandate consistently enforced at the Cajundome?

“Just like with any other arena,” Casey B. White, the Cajundome and Convention Center’s marketing director, said when asked about facility policy Wednesday night, “they can take them off once they’re seated at their seats – because the seats are socially distanced from other guests.

“But obviously we encourage them to continue wearing them at all times, just for a safety precaution.

“It’s no different than if you were in a church building, if you’re in a retail business,” White added in a telephone interview. “We have advanced HVAC systems that do circulate the air with outside air as well, so it’s no different from being inside any other business.”

White followed up via email Thursday morning.

“While the guidelines do not expressly state that fans are required to wear masks at all times,” White said in a subsequent email, “it is recommended, and as such, we will remind patrons at entry that they should be wearing a face mask/face covering at all times while inside the building unless eating or drinking.”

Later Thursday morning, following additional questioning by The Daily Advertiser, the Cajundome response reversed.

“We are following the state’s current proclamation regarding face coverings for stadiums/arenas ... In addition, the basketball operations staff is in agreement that mask wearing by fans be a requirement at this time when they are inside the building, unless actively eating or drinking.”

UL, though, actually was on board with that already.

Cajuns assistant athletic director for communication Patrick Crawford said Wednesday fans would be asked to comply with the requirement by Cajundome staff. 

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Games have been lost already

The conflicting messaging and lack of enforcement Tuesday may seem confusing for fans of a team that just wants to play.

Already this season, UL has had two men’s home basketball games canceled due to COVID-19 issues within opponent programs – Xavier-Louisiana and Loyola-New Orleans. The Cajuns also lost other games when the NCAA delayed the start of the season due to the coronavirus, including a would-be season-opener at Texas and a game at Southern Miss.

Cajuns coach Bob Marlin was asked if he was concerned about potentially having future games canceled because his players were impacted by fans who spread the virus.

“I did tell the guys (Tuesday night) before the game that ‘This is an opportunity; you don’t know that you’re gonna have a guaranteed opportunity in the future,’ ” he said.

“Teams are closing down left and right across the country. We want to be safe and put the students’ health (first). That’s the most important thing to us. But it’s always a concern that we could lose games going forward.”

Marlin said he did not notice the mask-free fans: “We’re just focused on the game,” he said. But Marlin said Cajun players and coaches are “doing everything we need to do” to try to avoid contracting the virus.

Regularly scheduled COVID-19 testing for team members was planned Wednesday morning for the Cajuns, who are scheduled to play Louisiana Tech on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN+) at the Cajundome.

“Hopefully we get another good result … and just keep staying within our bubble, doing what we’re doing within our group,” Marlin said.

The men’s basketball program had no positive tests as of Wednesday afternoon, Crawford said.

A socially distanced crowd of 349 spectators watched the UL basketball team's win over LSU Alexandria on Tuesday night at the Cajundome, most of them not wearing COVID-19 face masks

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To wear or not to wear

The NCAA's own “Guidance and Recommendations” document for personnel working basketball game day operations recommends that “all individuals, regardless of role or function, always wear a mask/face covering prior to entry and within the competition venue.”

It does not, however, address what is required of spectators.

According to Crawford, all guidelines provided by the Cajundome and UL’s athletic department are following Louisiana Department of Health, Center for Disease Control, Sun Belt Conference and UL system recommendations.

“Ragin’ Cajuns fans are not admitted into the facility without wearing a proper face covering,” Crawford said. “These same people are asked to wear face coverings at all times when in the facility.”

The Sun Belt, however, does not require all fans to wear face masks.

Rather, its “recommendation to each of our 12 members is that fans attending all athletic events should wear a facial covering that covers the nose and mouth when entering and exiting the arena, movement throughout the athletic facility, as well as any time guests are unable to maintain the recommended physical distance from others who are not in their same household.”

That recommendation, however, does come with a caveat: “State and local health departments, as well as state law may impose additional requirements, that each member institution will be responsible for following.”

As for enforcement at the Cajundome, Crawford said fans “would be refused entry” or “refused service” at concessions or merchandise stations “if found to not be wearing a mask.”

White said everyone on the Cajundome events staff is required to wear a face covering.

“When they’re stationed at the door taking tickets,” she said in her telephone interview, “they’ll be enforcing that the guests have their face covering or face mask on when they arrive.

“If they notice them walking through the lobby or going back and forth to the rest room, they’re obviously gonna remind them, if they’re not wearing it, to place it back on.”

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