The Pride of Oklahoma has recorded 11 positive COVID-19 tests following the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl, according to the band’s director.
The 11 cases, as of Jan. 1, include 10 students and 1 staff member, band director Brian Britt told The Daily. The first three students tested positive during the band’s stay in San Antonio, Britt said. The students were isolated in separate rooms for the remainder of the stay, and Britt drove the positive students back to Norman in a rented vehicle separate from the band buses.
The rental was paid for through a “contingency line” in the bowl budget to account for unforeseen circumstances, Britt said.
On the morning of Dec. 31, after the band returned to Norman, Britt said another student informed him they had tested positive. The additional seven students and one staff member reported their results by Jan. 1.
“We have encouraged all of our students to get tested and report their test results on the Healthy Together App so our university administration and medical officials are aware of our students’ health status,” Britt said.
The Pride brought 335 total band members traveled to San Antonio, Britt said, including 310 students.
The Alamo Bowl was not the first time The Pride traveled during the football season — it also went to Dallas for the Red River Rivalry game and a smaller section traveled to Waco for the Baylor game — but some band members said they were disappointed more precautions weren’t taken for the lengthier bowl travel.
“The thing that jumps out to me from a procedural standpoint is the amount of time we spent in closed spaces,” said Zach Yarbrough, astrophysics senior and Pride member. “Specifically, in the buses. We take seven buses for each trip, and we bus around 340 band members, plus 15 or 20 staff. On the Texas trip, that’s two and a half hours to Dallas, whereas when we traveled to San Antonio, we were on the buses from about 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. … in an enclosed area with pretty poor air circulation, all culminating in a game in an enclosed dome with 50,000 people.”
Ginger Miller, a history and clarinet performance junior, said members of her section tested positive following October’s Red River Rivalry game. However, she said the band’s trip to Dallas also featured less potential exposure since fewer band events were held in the city.
“We were in the hotel for one night (in Dallas), so I think part of the difference is that we weren’t together for as long a period of time,” Miller said.
Band members first returned to Norman for rehearsal on Dec. 26, Yarborough said, and left for San Antonio on Dec. 27. They stayed together in San Antonio until leaving the day after the game, around 10 a.m. Dec. 30.
Concerns about increased exposure to other Pride members were compounded because some members traveled long distances during the holidays, Yarborough said. While band members who lived in Texas were allowed to join at different points to limit their travel, those from other states had to return directly to Norman. Even among those who limited travel, Yarborough said, there was uncertainty regarding potential in-home exposures.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads more easily than others, according to the CDC. With the variant’s surge returning the U.S. to the highest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic, Miller said tighter protocols should have been enforced.
“I do feel like it was irresponsible in the way that it happened. Stricter guidelines around masking and modeling behavior for masking,” Miller said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people, and we feel like more could have been done, like having us all test before going on the trip. … I know of people who were allowed to go on the trip after having been exposed to COVID.”
In the final three reported weeks of the fall semester, from Dec. 2 to Dec. 22, the OU COVID-19 dashboard recorded 25 positive cases in 542 tests, a 4.6 percent positivity rate.
Although Britt said band leadership asked students to wear masks on the buses and in confined spaces — and “a majority” of meals were eaten outdoors to help mitigate spread — Yarborough said some were frustrated band leadership did not more actively encourage masking among band members who chose not to.
“I think that could have been a stronger point of emphasis from leadership, because as a student, it’s not fair to put us in that position to try to compel a peer to change their behavior,” Yarborough said. “That’s not our job, and it’s not good for morale.”
The lack of stronger messaging from leadership also led to some buses taking masking “less seriously” than others, Miller said, enhancing potential exposure between vehicles.
Despite younger people facing lower risks of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 — especially if they are vaccinated, according to CDC studies — Yarborough and Miller said they are taking infections within the Pride seriously because the virus’s impact extends beyond their own health.
“I have family members who are not vaccinated and do not take precautions themselves, and I know that many others are in that situation,” Miller said. “This situation is not just affecting those of us in the Pride, it’s affecting those we see once we get home.”
“My quote-unquote ‘personal decision’ to wear a mask is not personal at all — it’s what one would expect to be done to protect my friends in the section, and my peers in the band,” Yarborough said. “I don’t want my friends to go home to their families, or my staff members to go home to their spouses and children (with the virus).”