Students cite unmasked patrons at Loyola-hosted club volleyball tournament

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An empty court in the Loyola Sports Complex, Mar. 6. The Complex’s courts were full of hundreds of attendees at the Governor’s Games just one week prior. Photo credit: Madeline Taliancich

Madeline Taliancich

Cynthia Russell and Kylie Evans had planned to exercise together more this semester and, when they both had free time on Saturday, Feb. 27, decided to head to the Loyola Sports Complex. This wasn’t the first time the two had worked out together, but it was the first time the gym has been filled with hundreds of guests. As they walked in, they said they noticed immediately how crowded it was.

“There were people filling the gym. It was pretty hectic,” said Evans.

The growing crowd on and around the Sports Complex’s six courts was made up of spectators, athletes and coaches of the Governor’s Games, a Louisiana club volleyball tournament. The tournament was scheduled for Feb. 27 and 28 at different venues across the state, including Loyola, according to the tournament’s scheduling website advancedeventsystems.com.

Although the Sports Complex has a current 15% capacity of 446 people under New Orleans’s COVID guidelines, the number of individuals inside the Sports Complex only ever reached 330 during the tournament, according to Brett Simpson, director of intercollegiate athletics.

Patricia Murret, associate director of public affairs, said the staff took incredible care to ensure that guest attendance and players were kept to a minimum as well as following the mask mandate while inside the Sports Complex.

Although the facility was under the allowed capacity throughout the tournament, Evans said there wasn’t much social distancing.

“Especially at the entrance to the court, there were people really close to one another, almost touching,” she said. “On one of the bleachers it was a bit better with more distance but mostly it was pretty packed.”

As Evans and Russell headed upstairs, they said they began to notice more and more patrons wearing their masks improperly, on their chins or not at all.

“Some people weren’t wearing masks. There were even some Loyola kids working out in the gym who weren’t masked,” Russell said.

Evans said she reported the unmasked Loyola students to the person working the front desk. Soon after, Evans said a man who worked at the Sports Complex gestured to the students working out to pull their masks up, but that the students continued to exercise without their masks on after he walked away.

Simpson said tournament staff, LUPD officers, an athletics staff member and members of the USC staff were reinforcing the mask policy and checking temperatures throughout the tournament.

After Russell and Evans left the gym, they said they encountered a large group of unmasked athletes and coaches from the tournament outside the facility.

“None of the team was wearing masks and they were in this huge huddle taking photos and looking at each other’s phones,” Evans said.

Evans said there were other adults with the group also not wearing masks.

On Sunday Feb. 28, Russell and her friend, student Melanie Pritts, were returning from PJs Coffee when they said they saw another group of unmasked athletes and coaches from the volleyball tournament standing outside the Sports Complex. Pritts said there were at least 15 club athletes sitting in close proximity to one another without wearing masks.

Russell is a resident assistant and said over the course of the next hour she spoke to several of the unmasked individuals in an attempt to enforce Loyola’s mask policy, even some who were attempting to enter the Dana Center without masks.

“I would say, ‘Hey, I’m an RA and we have a strict COVID policy here. Can you please put on a mask?’ and I got shrugged off,” she said.

“I don’t think a single person put their mask on after we asked,” said Pritts. Some rolled their eyes at the two of them, according to Pritts.

Russell said she even saw an LUPD officer walk by the unmasked group without saying anything.

Simpson said he was unaware of any problems outside of the Sports Complex until after the tournament had ended on Monday.

“Obviously, this is disappointing and we will address these issues going forward. We will continue to make mask compliance a point of emphasis with our staff and those renting the facility,” he said.

The university echoed Simpson’s disappointment in a statement from Murret.

“Going forward, we will take all steps necessary to ensure that guests to campus follow the same protocols our faculty, staff and students do,” she said.

Dei’Janique Walker, a Loyola student and employee of the on-campus Starbucks, said she saw people from the tournament walking around inside the Dana Center without masks during her shift on Saturday.

“If anyone said anything to them about the masks, nothing happened while they were near the Starbucks,” Walker said. She said she has a strict no mask, no service policy and wouldn’t have served these unmasked individuals if they tried to order.

Walker said she is a diabetic and at a higher risk for severe illness if she were to catch COVID from an unmasked patron. She said the entire situation frustrated her.

“Why fuss at Loyola students but not tell your guests anything?” she said. “You need to think about your student body.”

Russell said she’s disappointed with the university’s handling of the event, especially considering Loyola students have had to make sacrifices to follow guidelines.

“The fact that Loyola let all these people in our facilities without following guidelines made me furious,” she said. “It’s kinda like a spit in the face.”