West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis added his name to a letter urging the Big Ten Conference to be cognizant of the effect its upcoming football season may have on college towns.
Dennis joins the mayors of several other Big Ten cities such as Evanston, Illinois, where Northwestern University is; Iowa City, Iowa, where the University of Iowa is; and College Park, Maryland, home to the University of Maryland.
“We ask that you work with local and county health officials in these communities to define a population positivity rate, where hosting a football game that would bring increased activity into the community is no longer safe to do,” the letter states.
The letter, dated Monday, also asks the Big Ten to set and reveal its schedule as soon as possible, and host few or no evening games because of increased social activity later in the day.
“We are at a pivotal moment in history,” the letter adds. “Protecting our community members should be, and is, our top priority.”
Despite the tone of the letter, Dennis expressed his optimism and pride in Purdue and West Lafayette.
“We are managing this much better than other universities,” Dennis said in a Tippecanoe County Health Department press conference on Wednesday. He cited students’ compliance to the Protect Purdue Pledge and the West Lafayette mask mandate.
He still expressed concern, however, about the potential for large gatherings to occur as they traditionally do during home football games.
“Anything that involves group behavior, whether it be Breakfast Club, whether it be standing in line at Harry’s, whether it be being inside at a local bar, tavern or restaurant, is a cause for concern,” Dennis told the Exponent on Wednesday.
“It’s always a challenge to make sure that people don’t (gather together),” Dennis added. “We’re a social animal.”
Dennis also noted that disciplinary measures similar to those that govern student activities will be enforced by the city during sporting events.
Big Ten guidelines state that if a team’s seven-day average positivity rate is greater than 5% and the seven-day average positivity rate within the athletic department is greater than 7.5%, the team must cancel practices and competitions for a minimum of seven days.
Protect Purdue Health Center Chief Medical Officer Esteban Ramirez said the University would “follow the NCAA recommendations” when it came to postponing or canceling games based on the campus positivity rate.
Tippecanoe County Health Officer Jeremy Adler added that if positivity rates rise, sporting events may be reevaluated.
“If we start seeing percent positivity values like some of the other areas in Indiana,” Adler said, “that would certainly raise questions about whether or not we should be having sporting events.”