Fewer Fans Come to Gentile Arena as Omicron COVID-19 Variant Spreads

Harry Soenksen | The PhoenixWith a strong class graduating out of this year's men's basketball squad, new transfers will be joining the team in the 2022-23 season.

As the fast-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads around the city, Loyola recently announced changes to the game day experience at Gentile Arena to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ensure fan safety — including requiring proof of vaccination and suspending concession sales.

Some fans said the Omicron variant hasn’t impacted their decision to attend games, thanks to Loyola’s new game day health requirements. Joe Hammond, a junior finance major at Loyola, said he believes the health requirements will keep fans safe while still enjoying games at Gentile Arena.

“I think that while Omicron is still very prevalent, I think it is something that we need to take into consideration,” Hammond said. “I think the safety and health [practices] that Loyola is putting into place are taking into account everything that Omicron is doing while still letting us enjoy basketball games.”

Others say that Loyola’s requirement of a COVID-19 booster requirement for all students, faculty and staff and requiring a negative COVID-19 test to allow residents to return to residence halls makes them more comfortable to attend games. Charlie Chengary, a first-year history and theology major, said the university’s testing requirements make him feel as safe as he did last semester on-campus.

“I would say mostly the testing stuff [makes me feel safer], having to have students who are coming back from their homes [test] negative has been a great part about that,” Chengary said. “Even before the Omicron stuff, everything we’ve had at Loyola beforehand about being comfortable [worked], I’ve felt really comfortable and that hasn’t changed.”

Some fans aren’t certain that Loyola’s health measures will protect fans at Gentile Arena. Rehana Wells, a first-year philosophy major, said she’s nervous about going to games within the first two weeks of the semester.

“I’m fine with [the requirement], I’m fully vaccinated and boosted so as long as everyone else is held to that standard it should be fine,” she said. “I think that making sure that people are wearing their masks [is important], just having people remind people [and] making sure that people are using hand sanitizer.”

Loyola’s game attendance numbers have declined as Chicago has passed its peak case numbers for the Omicron variant of COVID-19 — with the Loyola men’s basketball team beating Valparaiso University in front of a season-low 2,193 fans at Gentile Arena Jan. 11.

Compared to a similar span of two January home games during the 2019-20 season — the last Loyola men’s basketball season at Gentile Arena with fans in attendance in January — the decline isn’t substantial, as game attendance has only dipped 12%.

The Loyola men’s basketball team faced MVC rival Missouri State University Jan. 22 at Gentile Arena with 4,105 fans in attendance to watch the Ramblers fall 79-69.

The Loyola men’s volleyball team has seen a significant decline in game attendance numbers. The Ramblers lost to the University of Hawaii Jan. 18, 2020 with 2,102 fans in attendance prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, while beating the New Jersey Institute of Technology in front of 398 fans Jan. 15, 2022.

The Loyola women’s basketball team has also experienced a sharp drop in game attendance, falling from 326 fans on average through its first five home games to just 232 fans on average at their three most recent home games. 

The latest wave of COVID-19 cases peaked at 9,699 cases in Chicago Jan. 4 and have fallen steadily since, with 290 reported cases Jan. 24, bringing the city’s total all-time COVID-19 cases to 532,383. Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in her weekly COVID-19 update Jan. 19 the city has passed its Omicron peak and is confident in the decrease in both cases and positivity.

Loyola has experienced a decline in confirmed cases after the Omicron peak as students return to campus, with on-campus test positivity falling from 11% Jan. 3 to 7% Jan. 23 — reaching a seven-day moving average positivity rate of 4% for cases reported to the university. Loyola recorded zero positive cases on Jan. 24, its lowest number of positive COVID-19 cases since Dec. 30 before the spread of the Omicron variant.

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