They pack into the student section at Wilson Dome to root on the volleyball team this season, just like always.
Payson High School students support their athletic teams.
Rain or shine.
Pandemic or no pandemic.
They sit right next to each other and it’s difficult to spot a face covering in the crowd.
Is that a problem?
With COVID-19 continuing to spread across the country, some think so.
Payson High Athletic Director Rich Ormand said they’re limiting the number of spectators allowed this year and haven’t even reached 20% of the seating capacity of 2,500 for any game this season.
There is always space for people to spread out and some do. However, enough don’t to create concern among some in the community.
There were a reported 345 spectators or just 13.8% capacity in attendance in the dome for the final home game against Show Low on Oct. 27 when local photographer DJ Craig took a photo of the student section packed with fans with just two of about 75 or 80 spectators wearing a mask.
His photo post on Facebook generated more than 150 comments as of press time.
“Scary,” wrote one person. “This is how it spreads so rapidly.”
“This picture scares me,” another wrote.
“Come on, PUSD,” wrote another. “They need awareness, re: social distance/masks.”
“This is beyond my comprehension,” someone else commented.
“OMG, where are their masks,” another wrote. “Is this social distancing?”
Many thought it wasn’t a problem.
“I think everyone needs to worry about themselves and do what they feel is best — mask, no mask,” someone wrote. “You can’t get in without getting your temperature checked and answering no to symptoms. You also have to be wearing a mask. From that point people should be able to decide and if someone is by you not wearing a mask and it bothers you, then move. It’s a huge building.”
Ticket takers are taking fans’ temperatures with a digital thermometer when they enter an athletic event and fans must also answer health screening questions. While you need a mask to enter, many remove them once they get inside.
Another commenter talked about the students being together most of the day five or more days a week and their being close without masks at a volleyball game shouldn’t be alarming.
“These kids literally see each other every single day,” they wrote. “Whether it’s in school or out, they’re together 95% of the time. What difference does it make if they’re sitting together to support their school’s volleyball team, out at Rumsey playing basketball, driving around, staying at each other’s houses? Either way, they’re together! I never see/hear any of you complain when they’re all together at Rumsey, football games, driving around, etc. but because Craig posted a picture, out come the pitch forks! Let them be!!”
Everybody wants life back to the way it was before COVID-19 and the photo made one woman happy.
“Good to see life trying to return back to normal!!!,” she wrote. “Love our students!!”
A man replied: “It’s really not about these kids. Although over 1,000 kids in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 complications. It’s about being contagious even when you don’t experience any symptoms to others in your family neighborhood like your grandma or grandpa or your family member or friend who has an immunodeficiency who may experience severe complications just because you were exposed and never knew it.”
Payson Unified School District ended the 2019-20 school year with remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Classrooms opened again this fall under COVID-19 guidelines.
PUSD Superintendent Linda Gibson said the district hasn’t reported any positive COVID-19 cases since opening for in-person instruction.
In an email to the Roundup, Gibson wrote: “We believe that this is due to the following: The support of our staff and families who are staying home and/or keeping their children home if they are not feeling well or have any symptoms. The increased levels of cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing by our employees that are practiced throughout each school day.”
But other school districts across the state have dealt with virus-related hurdles in recent weeks, including Fountain Hills.
On Oct. 28, Fountain Hills closed its classrooms for 14 days until Nov. 11 and canceled its final three football games and all athletics until Nov. 11, including an Oct. 28 junior varsity football game vs. Payson. That announcement came the week following Payson’s varsity football game in Fountain Hills and Fountain Hills freshman, JV and varsity volleyball games at Wilson Dome.
And Fountain Hills has been careful this year. They limited fans at the Oct. 23 varsity football game against Payson to Fountain Hills families only. No Payson fans were allowed. A group of Payson parents and families cheered the Longhorns on looking down at the field from behind a fence in a dark parking lot next to the field.
Payson hasn’t been selling tickets to the public and allows a reduced number for the families of players, coaches, students and staff for home football games this year to limit the number of fans in the stands. They’ve also awarded a few tickets to the visiting school.
Ormand said the number of spectators for volleyball in Wilson Dome has ranged from a low of 204 on Sept. 9 to a high of 391 on Oct. 13. And the numbers fluctuate with three games a night starting with the freshman game, followed by the junior varsity, then the varsity game.
“Not all people come early or stay late for all three matches,” Ormand said.
A majority of fans attend the varsity game.
The other PHS fall sports of football, boys and girls soccer and cross country take place outdoors. A new swim club debuted this year, and they don’t wear masks while practicing in the Tonto Apache Gym pool.
Cheer members do wear masks.
Boys and girls basketball and wrestling teams start practice next week if the COVID-19 numbers in the area are within permissible levels. Payson teams all compete and practice in Wilson Dome.